Jul 25 2012

TFA and Social Media

Today there was a post on ‘Pass The Chalk’ by a TFA staffer, Bex Young, entitled ‘6 Things You Need to Know About TFA and Social Media‘.  Bex, according to her Twitter profile, manages social media marketing for TFA.

The post begins with a good self-deprecating joke about how this is the place to ‘toe the party line.’  It’s one of those things that must not be true if they’re willing to joke about it.  But I still haven’t seen anything but the ‘party line’ yet.  It seems to be all staffers, so far, but, to be fair, it has just started.

Then the 6 (really 5 since #1 and #5 are the same thing) ‘things’ are outlined.

The first was to ‘get vocal’ meaning that everyone is encouraged to do it.  She gives a few examples of what sort of Tweeting they want to see more of including, and this is pretty bizarre, one from Diane Ravitch.  Now Diane Ravitch has said many good things about the TFA corps members.  She once even said that if she were just graduating college, she would probably want to do TFA.  But still, as she is one of the most outspoken critics of TFA, it is kind of ironic, and, in my opinion, very calculated.  It is like TFA is saying “You’re surprised?  Why?  We just love Diane.  Sure we disagree from time to time, but we’re all about getting the best education for the children in this nation.”  Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

#2 is ‘Keep it real’ but always with the reminder “Related, state clearly that your perspectives are in fact your own, and not officially representative of your school, district, Teach For America, or any other entity.”  Kind of strange, again.  Why do they have to state clearly.  Isn’t it pretty much assumed by anyone reading the blog.  Does anyone really do that?

#3 is ‘Protect Students and their families’ which is smart to keep kids’ names anonymous.

#4 is ‘Be respectful and pick your battles’ otherwise known as ‘The Gary Rubinstein clause,’ though I do try to be respectful.  Maybe I fail at it sometimes, but I really do try to be civil.

#5 was ‘Be Vocal’ again, and reminding us “No matter your opinion or perspective on how to close the achievement gap, you are an important voice in this conversation,” which is a sentiment I like, but I’m still waiting to see a blog that has a different opinion or perspective.

Why repeat a rule?  Maybe this was a bit whimsical before the hammer drops on #6.

6) If you’re a teacher: When you joined the corps you signed a district/school contract and the CM Requirements, Policies, and Procedures document. Make sure you are following these guidelines. Specifically, the CMPP includes the AmeriCorps policy, which states: “you may not attempt to influence legislation or participate in or endorse political events or activities while charging time to an AmeriCorps program.”

Ouch.  So since you are getting AmeriCorps money as a corps member, you can’t do some things “while charging time to an AmeriCorps program.”  Does this mean during working hours at school?  Or does this mean that you can’t Tweet “I’m voting for Obama” at 11:00 PM on a Friday night?  It is also unclear about what constitutes an ‘attempt to influence legislation’ or what it means to ‘participate in or endorse political events or activities.’  Does this include ed reform policy like Race To The Top?

Maybe I’m reading way too much into this, but I’d like to see some examples of what is OK and not OK with regard to #6.  As it reads, it is very unclear and sounds like a huge restriction of freedom of speech.  I invite Bex, in the spirit of respectful exchange, to leave a comment on this post clarifying or adding a comment to her own post — oops, sorry, I forgot that they don’t allow comments.

And that last bit wasn’t me being disrespectful.  That was just me being funny.

15 Responses

  1. I would imagine that “Prior Restraint” is the cornerstone of every nutritious TFA breakfast.

  2. David Smith

    #6 is basic non-profit policy, mandated by the IRS. I have the same restriction in my job. It means that I cannot use my work time, my work office, my work computer, or my work email to carry out those activities, but I can, and do, pursue those activities on my own time, on my own computer, using my own personal email address.

  3. Linda

    This is just a pr ploy to make it look like they care and to counteract your success. It is so disingenuous and very calculated. I think I will pass on pass the chalk, but I guess it provided a job for one person to manage.

  4. EMinNM

    The influencing politics clause in the Americorps commitment was explained pretty extensively to our corps (though now that I’ve said that, I’m immediately doubting everything I think I remember). I think it is more along the lines of you can’t go to a protest wearing an Americorps T-Shirt. You can’t sign people up to vote and tell them you are part of TFA. You can’t campaign for Planned Parenthood if you insist on displaying your “I <3 Wendy" tattoo to all passersby. As far as I'm aware, it applies to during-school time and while you are purposely affiliating yourself with TFA/Americorps. They're probably just being careful about politics on social media. "I'm voting tonight!" is probably ok. "I'm voting for Obama and you should too because I'm TFA!" is probably not.

  5. Dan McGuire

    Point #6 explains the genius of TFA. Use federal money to subsidize teachers to insure that they are apolitical. The obvious alternative is to have teachers be active members of AFT or NEA; both spend lots of money on politics and encourage their members to be very political and to link their membership to their politics, outside of their duty day and school property. It’s a great way to use tax dollars to blunt the work of those pesky unions who seem to frequently support non-Republican candidates.

    • Meg

      TFA teachers are free to join teachers unions in their districts, but if they were to, say support a political candidate on behalf of the NEA, it could not ALSO be as a member of TFA or on behalf of TFA.

  6. Rachel

    Isn’t the “no politicking” thing generally part of being a teacher/government employee? Personally, I can support Candidate X, but I can’t go around saying, “I’m a teacher at School Q, and I support Candidate X” because that can imply that School Q and thus the district support Candidate X.

    I vaguely remember there being some sort of stink about government employees working on federal property having bumper stickers endorsing various candidates on their car, but it’s also possible that my mom just made that up-she does that…

  7. Linda

    Send your pro reform stories, whatever PRO reform is and you might win a gift card to the Olive Garden….Yippee!

    From: Catherine Robinson
    Date: July 26, 2012 9:58:12 PM EDT
    To: Catherine Robinson
    Subject: rapid responses needed – and a contest!
    Hi all,

    I’m going to be in Orlando all next week for the KIPP Conference. If you’d like to meet up and discuss ways you can get more involved in our movement, please let me know!
    Also, starting right now, there will be a monthly contest for the best rapid response. The more comments you leave on blog posts, the more times you can enter! Post a polite and persuasive pro-reform comment and email me the link so I can check it out.
    That’s all you have to do!
    At the end of the month (August 26th at midnight) I will announce the winner. Not only will that winner get a gift card to the restaurant or store of choice, but he or she will also be promoting the cause of real and transformative change in public schools! What could be better?
    Here are some links for your review:
     http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/officials-new-hillsborough-teachers-join-union
    http://www.nyfera.org/?p=3812
    http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-watch/2012/will-common-core-usher-in-a-return-to-content-driven-instruction.html
    http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2012/07/parent_trigger_goes_hollywood.html
    http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120726/OPINION01/120729756/1076/opinion?template=printpicart
    http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2012/07/25/judge-says-california-parents-cant-unpull-trigger-petition/
    http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/east-volusia/2012/07/26/report-ranks-florida-behind-most-states-on-child-health-and-education.html
    http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2012/07/26/report-says-alec-has-growing-influence-in-florida-education-policy/
    (Regarding Polk County’s at-risk charter schools) http://www.theledger.com/article/20120725/NEWS/120729506?tc=ar
    I look forward to reading your comments!
    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Catherine

    Catherine Durkin Robinson
    Regional Outreach Manager
    Florida
    M: (813) 453-4274
    http://www.StudentsFirst.org

  8. Mathinaz

    This is not anywhere near as scandalous as it must look at first glance. #6 is a really common public employee thing… I just looked in to it to make sure I was safe doing some campaigning on my own time. You aren’t generally allowed to use school computers, copy machines, email, etc to do anything related to politics. You also aren’t supposed to do any campaigning while clearly publicizing yourself as, for example, an Americorps member. It’s definitely not TFA-specific and in general is a well-intentioned policy to make sure we dont use our power in the community as political employees (or things paid for by tax dollars) to promote a political agenda. Look through your employee handbook – it probably says something very similar.

  9. Dan McGuire

    Nobody said it was TFA specific. The distinction is in comparison to union techers. Teachers who are members of a union are allowed to identify themselves as teachers who are members of a union and teach at a particular school and live in a particular neighborhood. Because teachers are some of the most hgihly respected people in their communities, their political opinions carry weight, as they should. Teachers are not permitted to do any political work, or any work not related to their duties while on duty; they are, of course, also not permitted to use school equipment for political work.

    The fact that union teachers are very political and have advocated for all kinds of reforms of education since they’ve been around is particularly galling to some, but especially problematic for people who have political opinions that differ from the majority of teachers. Things that union teachers have brought to the profession are things like being allowed to be pregnant and keep a job, in some cases be married and keep a job, get paid for prep time, etc. Union teachers were also at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and still are.
    Replacing union teachers with TFA teachers, whether they join the union or not, reduces the influence of teacher unions. Subsidizing apolitical TFA teachers with federal tax dollars is brilliant politics.

  10. xian

    I’ve heard TFA use #6 to intimidate Corps members not to participate in union elections. They are smart so they don’t put it in writing, and when we called them out on it, they sent a letter “clarifying” that they were completely lying in their intimidation.

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