Jul 12 2013

Hanging Chad

I know that people always get upset, no matter how many times I issue this disclaimer, when I use a blog post or tweet from a new corps member to illustrate some of the problems with the TFA ‘mindset’ training.  These are never intended to be personal attacks.  I just like to do them as a way of helping people, particularly the new CMs, understand the issues in a highly relevant way.  As a TFA alum who has many TFA alum friends, I know that CMs are generally good people.  I don’t think there are very many who are just doing it to put on their resume.  So my critiques are of the way that TFA takes these good people and, in a sense, brainwashes them by feeding them the reform ‘Kool Aid’ and by shielding them from critical commentary.

I’ve recently been made aware of a new 2013 CM named Chad and who goes by the twitter handle @ChadForAmerica.  Again, if Chad reads this, I want to be clear that I don’t fault him for what he has been writing.  TFA corps members, despite supposedly having been chosen for their leadership potential, are very docile and even gullible.  They seem to trust TFA blindly and are not able to even consider alternative points of view.

One of Chad’s first tweets is a good example of this:

Yes, I understand that this is his ‘street’ way of saying that he is going to accomplish transformational change, but when you really get into the subtext, intentional or not, this is quite disturbing.  Has TFA encouraged him to think that inner city kids are filled with feces and that regular non-TFA teachers have been content with this while only TFA teachers have the ability to extract it from them?  Again, I am not attacking Chad, as I know commenters are sure to blame me for, but the way that TFA surely influenced him to think this way, or at least does not discourage it.

Chad has been active since he began tweeting about a week ago, amassing over 5,000 followers already.  In his tweets he continues to give a glimpse into the TFA mindset conditioning.  I’ve seen things like this before from bloggers on this site, so generally this has been nothing new to me, but I recently saw a twitter interchange with Chad that really hit home with me:

In this last tweet Chad has revealed something very disturbing.  It is one thing that TFA has not, over the years, encouraged TFAers to read my two guidebooks for new teachers, ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ and ‘Beyond Survival’ despite the fact that they were written with TFA teachers specifically in mind with the kind of advice that would help them be more effective teachers.  I can live with that.  But for TFA to actively DISCOURAGE corps members from being seen with me.  This is just very upsetting to me.  And notice that Chad calls me ‘Jerry Rubenstein’ with the wrong first name and the last name spelled with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘i.’  Of course this just could be Chad having misheard the warning, but I think a much more likely explanation is that TFA deliberately told them a distorted version of my name just in case Chad would get curious and try to google me to see what this taboo person was all about.  TFA has even taken away from Chad the option of getting an alternative perspective.  This time they have gone too far.

Again, I’m not blaming Chad.  He’s really just a kid doing what he is told.  But for TFA to encourage this, or at least not discourage it, is unforgivable.  I was starting to mellow out a bit recently, especially after being invited to the TFA listens tour and meeting with the two new co-CEOs.  I even was encouraged by the recent Huffington Post piece by co-CEO Elissa Villanueava-Beard where she describes that TFA is going to embrace critical views from alumni as we are all under TFA’s ‘Big Tent’ (a phrase TFA surely paid $100,000 to a PR firm to devise).  Well, if telling people not to associate with me and then even going so far to not tell them my accurate name is a big tent, then it is a tent that really has a big hole over my head so I can get rained on and hailed on while they all remain dry.  That is not a way to treat someone who has been involved with this organization for the past twenty-two years just because we differ on some aspects of education reform.

 

39 Responses

  1. Are you sure Chad isn’t a parody account? Just look at those tweets.

  2. In particular, look at the retweet from July 2.

  3. I think you’ve been had, Jerry!

    • Sellario

      Gary got you! Read this again, “Has TFA encouraged him to think that inner city kids are filled with feces and that regular non-TFA teachers have been content with this while only TFA teachers have the ability to extract it from them?”

      Got me for a moment too then I read Chad’s other tweets.

  4. Nick

    Gary,

    Have you verified that this is an account of a new TFA CM and not a satirical account? I was looking through his posts yesterday and I wasn’t sure if this was for real or a joke.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  5. mches

    Now I can’t tell if Gary is being next-level satirical as a way to get us to read this Twitter account while publicly tut-tutting it as a way to endorse it without endorsing it.

  6. I think “troll” is the technical term.

  7. Shannon

    I honestly hope this person is a troll. A TFA-troll, there’s something new!

  8. I don’t think troll is the right term. A troll is someone who waits around for posts, comments, etc to insert their point of view. “Chad” appears to have his own satirical agenda, and I plan on enjoying it until s/he gets bored with it.

  9. RunOn

    I HOPE this is a troll account. I really really really hope this is. Because I’m kind of appalled by the tweets. There is a difference between relaying your experience and acting mindlessly.

    But having been to institute myself…I can tell you that NO ONE ever told me to do, say, act, or write the way he is. No one ever told or taught me to comment on blogs. And I think anyone I know in TFA, alums and staff, would be equally disturbed by what he is saying.

    Not backing away from my previous positions of not using others as a dart board for personal attacks…this to me seems like a totally different situation.

    • Michael Fiorillo

      You should be disturbed because, satire or not, these tweets come very close to espousing the same cliches, condescension, arrogance, and Stepford Wife insularity we’ve come to expect from TFA.

      • RunOn

        I guess it depends on who you encounter and interact with. That is the problem with thinking or assuming that one person or even some people represent an entire group.

      • MS Teacher

        Michael, if 40% of this years teacher are non-white and 30% received Pell Grants, don’t you think your Stepford Wife comment is a bit off? Seems like you are painting with a very broad, white, brush.

        • jcg

          If TfA released their stats maybe the public could verify that 40% non white but until they do, that number can’t be verified.

          Non-white or white, untrained TfA temps are replacing experienced teachers, most of whom are non-white women.

  10. tlmerrie

    I would certainly like to know more about this person either way. I wouldn’t be shocked at TFA discouraging CM’s from following your blog but I would think it would be a very foolish decision on their part.

    Gary, I love your posts. They inspire me.

  11. Educator

    I think it’s a satire account, like this one with the chef industry:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/13/dining/whos-ruthbourdain-now-we-know.html?hp

    But I had thought s/he posted a picture from Institute (Los Angeles?) around July 4th, so unless s/he got a friend to e-mail over a photo or s/he pulled it from the web, s/he seems to actually be at an Institute, or coincidentally at Institute.

  12. Jack

    Assuming Chad is real…

    this seems to show TFA becoming more and more cult-like. Let’s take a look at the techniques:

    sleep deprivation – CHECK

    chanting – CHECK

    isolating members from critical opinions – CHECK

    instilling phobias against any contact with critics – CHECK

    intensive indoctrination – CHECK

    shunning of fall-aways like Gary – CHECK

    manipulation of group dynamics to discourage dissent – CHECK

    I’m sure there’s more if someone else wants to chime in…

    • tlmerrie

      That’s awesome! I can’t stop laughing.

    • RunOn

      Can we discuss the fact that “Chad” is SO clearly a satirical persona.

      I’ll chime in…

      I’m really sorry if that was your experience in TFA–assuming that you have experience as a Corps Member (for the record and lack of tone in text I’m not being sarcastic)

      But there are many dissenters and critical thinkers in the ranks of TFA teachers and even staff members who didn’t have that experience. Who have called it liked they saw it and not been forced out or blacklisted. From what I’ve heard every region is different and perhaps there are regions where your above list is the reality. But I for one got plenty of sleep in institute (and never handed in an assignment late), don’t recall chanting really at all, and I was never shut down for having an opposing viewpoint (I’m very critical of charter schools). What is interesting though is that before I started TFA I was fearful of ALL of these things. I had heard that they “know everything” in a big brother sort of way, that you’ll be forced out or blacklisted in some central database, and none of that reflects my TFA experience. So again, I’m really sorry if that was your experience in TFA, that sounds terrible, but just realize that isn’t everyone’s experience and when its not it doesn’t mean that you are super kool aid drinker.

      • NewarkTFA

        You got plenty of sleep at institute? WOW!
        I think most people involved with TFA are decent, sincere, and well-intentioned, but, in all honesty, my experiences at institute made me question the underlying culture of the organization from Day 1. A sick organizational culture can influence even fine people to do foolish, destructive things. I do remember plenty of chanting and many other techniques that seemed–even at the time–quite cult-like. I remember, in particular, the fact that the announcement of the Totally Free Afternoon caused every woman in the room (except for me) to openly sob. I defintely did not feel that it was acceptable for us to exercise common sense in terms of taking care of ourselves physically.
        Obviously, I’m not trying to cast aspersions on you or on anyone else who had a good experince. I’m all for good experiences!
        However, as someone who has taught for seven years at her placement school, the passsage of time has made me ever more concerned about launching impressionable young people on teaching careers with the sort of boot-camp-like (or even Navy-SEAL-training-esque) institute that I experienced. As a career teacher, I don’t necessarily have big problems with people starting out teaching with just a two-year committment–as long as they are TRULY entering jobs that would otherwise go unfilled–but I do have a HUGE problem with priming people up to work at a pace they could not possibly sustain over the long haul.

        • RunOn

          Whoa. I never said I had a good experience. Ha. I just said that I wasn’t sleep deprived or asked to chant. Sleep was (and still is) my number one priority while I was in institute and I got a solid 7-8 hours a night. I’m not a night person and never was (I think my brain starts closing shop after 6pm). And its funny that everyone makes such a hullaballoo about the amount of sleep that you get in institute because I don’t get any more sleep as a teacher (sometimes its less). I know I had friends who went to institute in the years before me and said they would get 3-4 hours of sleep–not my experience…maybe it was theirs, maybe it was exaggeration. Maybe it was luck of the draw with my placement and group. I also was a few years older than the average CM and had lived in my region for a few years already so I wasn’t into going to the bars. I have a long list of issues with TFA as an organization and my personal experience as well. I’ve shared my opinions to staffers in a respectable manner and appropriate space and wasn’t shunned– sometimes they even agree openly. I guess this is sort of the problem with teaching and education in the age of ed-reform though…you’re asked to pick a side, black or white and its really just not that simple. If you aren’t on a side I feel like everyone is vying for your allegiance with some over simplified talking points that aren’t always representative of your experience or even reality.

          I commend you for teaching for 7 years in your placement school, by the way. Not because its your placement school but because these days its rare to see commitment and stability and often people want to stay but don’t because expectations or people make it too difficult. I hope that you have a school community that appreciates you.

  13. Heike

    …This is a satire account.

  14. good days

    Dear Run on
    I can vouch that Jerry, I mean Gary was a true corps member back in 91 at the one and only institute at USC. He along with the rest of us, always liked a good bagel for breakfast. I also saw him at several TFA functions in Houston-Come to think of it I think he may be the one who started the jokes about the TFA pink power suits. He was trouble even then!

    Just FYI- to post a blog on Teach for Us one needs to use a TFA issued email. So if you’re not enjoying my trip down good ole days lane -that fact should verify that he was TFA.

    • RunOn

      Dear Good Days,

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about since I know that Gary was a true corps member in 91 and a real person. I thought it was pretty clear that I was referring to the “Chad” twitter account. I never questioned that Gary was real–I’ve followed him for quite some time.

      • Educator

        Oops I meant to Reply here:

        “It would be easier if everyone clicked Reply under the comment they were replying to.”

      • good days

        Got it-
        Thought your “assuming that you have experience as a Corps Member” statement was being directed at Gary. My fault. sorry
        Really sometimes this whole reform/anti-reform and the extreme stereotypes directed at both sides is really so crazymachine.

        • RunOn

          Apologies for not being clearer. I was directing it towards “Jack” earlier in the post. And yes, I totally agree about extremes on both sides of the fence.

  15. Misengo

    Gary!
    1. I love your books.
    2. I’m an alumna (2000). I have many of the same issues you’ve raised in the past with TFA.
    3. I think Chad’s account is satire – mostly filled with feces, if we’re being polite, but meant to be satirical.
    4. It’s Elisa, with one s. Or are you deliberately misspelling her name so nobody can search for her? I don’t even know what’s real anymore!
    Stay calm. It’s OK.

  16. Ava

    I do think that Chad’s account is real, although he is certainly a little over the top. I have to say though, it seems very clear to me that many of his tweets are sarcastic, particularly the one about not reading this blog. I can imagine even the most enthusiastic CM’s making jokes like that, especially on twitter, which everyone used heavily at institute (I’m a 2011 CM, so it wasn’t so long ago for me). Imagining that they are telling new CM’s at institute not to be seen with you AND purposely giving them the wrong name just to be safe is incredibly paranoid. My advice: calm down.

  17. Educator

    It would be easier if everyone clicked Reply under the comment they were replying to…

  18. John

    Gary, can you make a post about your thoughts on prepping to get into a school that you would not get into otherwise?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Do you mean in addition to the one I just wrote about getting test prep for my daughter to increase her chances of getting a gifted and talented spot in kindergarten?

  19. G

    I’m pretty sure Chad’s Twitter account is satirical…or he’s just a serious butt-head (yeah, I just called him that).

  20. Jack

    Gary,

    Renowned teacher Rafe Esquith gave an interview to the Washington Post where he blasted everything from Common Core to KIPP to… of course… TFA.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/16/the-worlds-most-famous-teacher-blasts-school-reform/

    Here’s what he had to say about TFA.

    RAFE ESQUITH:

    “They [TFA corp members] are in my room all the time. Good kids. Nice. Bitter joke: TFA really stands for ‘teach for a while.’

    “Like all other teachers there are some great ones who are there for the right reasons who want to make a difference and some who want to pad their résumés. I certainly don’t think anybody can be a great teacher in five weeks. I hope this book helps them think a little bit about what they are getting into.

    They [TFA corps members] are obsessed with test scores. It becomes all about this: If you have a kid who gets a 75 on a test and then the kid gets an 85, you are a good teacher. My wife didn’t fall in love with me because of my test scores….

    “They [TFA leaders] are incredibly defensive about hearing an alternate idea. What’s said is that they are constantly throwing data and money showing they are successful. But they are really not. They are no more successful than any other teachers and if you read their blogs a lot give up in horrible frustration.

    “(…)

    “With Teach For America, I just want to tell them that there’s another problem. Most TFA teachers don’t stay in the classroom long. I want them to know that Room 56 matters. What we do matters. But the kids see teachers shifting back and forth, leaving for other jobs, wo why would they believe anything matters if their teachers keep leaving?

    “I’ve been a teacher at Hobart for 28 years. Can you imagine how many times I’ve been asked to leave? To start my own school, to make the movie? If I leave the room, the students will feel it.”

  21. Jack

    Gary,

    Perhaps you can start a new article with the following.

    This article, calling Chicago-area TFA’s “scabs, just came out:

    http://www.mintpressnews.com/a-closer-look-at-the-joyce-foundation-shows-obamas-ties-to-chicago-school-privatizations/164972/

    Here’s the quote:

    - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
    “Teach for America’s ‘Scabs’ and Principal (CEO) Development

    “Just over a month after the 50 CPS school closings and firing of 550 teachers, the Chicago Board of Education announced an increase from $600,000 to $1.58 million in spending to hire 570 Teach for America teachers.

    “Klonsky told Mint Press News that Teach for America contractors serve as de facto strike-breaking ‘scabs’ – usually unknowingly.

    “ ‘They’re providing the non-union teachers for the charter schools and they’re almost like a scab organization,’ he said. ‘What you do is you close public schools and fire hundreds of teachers like we’re doing here, then you open neighborhood
    charter schools and bring in Teach for America 5-week wonders who work cheap and last for about two or three years.’

    ” ‘Then they’re gone and another batch comes in. ‘

    “The Joyce Foundation gave $23.77 million to Teach for America in its first 20 years in existence, according to The Washington Post. It is one of 10 foundations whose funding accounted for over half of Teach for America’s budget during that time
    period. Joyce gave Teach for America another $400,000 grant in 2012.

    “The Chicago Public Education Fund also has lended a modest amount of money to Teach for America. Between 2000 and 2005, the fund gave just under $400,000 to the organization, tax filings reveal.

    “Since 2001, the Chicago Board of Education has doled out close to $6.6 million in contracts and hired 1,931 teachers from Teach for America, Board of Education contract records show. During that same period, thousands of CPS teachers got pink slips.

    “The rubber meets the road in the relationship between the Chicago school restructuring movement’s goal of creating CEO-type school principals and Teach for America’s Principal Leadership Pipeline, which was launched in September 2007. The Principal Leadership

    “Pipeline was a collaboration between CPS and Teach for America, financed by the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Pritzker Family Foundation.”

    “CPS will recruit high-performing Teach For America alumni to attend a school leadership program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and then enter into a one-year residency under the tutelage of a principal at a Chicago elementary or high school,” a press release announcing the program’s launch explains.

    “After the residency, the new principals will then take the helm of some of Chicago’s most challenged schools… Over the next five years, Teach For America could have as many as 50 school leaders in the pipeline, a group that would reach some 15,000 Chicago children a year.”

    “The program arose out of the Public Education Fund’s “Great Principals Blue Ribbon Task Force,’ formed in 2005. Its members included Pritzker and Duncan.

    “ ‘A consensus has developed over the last few years that a principal is the most important person in the school building,’ Pritzker said. ‘ Just like a [CEO], the principal sets the tone, creates the culture, manages the team and ties it all together by articulating a shared vision for what the organization ought to be. So if we get the principal right, other things can fall into place.’ “

  22. Jack

    Katie Osgood was today’s guest on a HuffPost talk show criticizing TFA.

    Later on in the show, a blogger and TFA defender named Justin Tong then joined the show and challenged her while not addressing any of her actual criticisms.

    In response, Katie was having none of Justin’s calls for Katie and everyone to just “work together.”

    Great stuff… just wish that it was longer.

    Check it out:

    http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/bad-side-critical-look-at-teach-for-america-/51e6dc2c2b8c2a353c0000a0

    Here’s the written promo:

    Some public school teachers are speaking out against Teach For America, alleging that the organization’s training is insufficient and that it threatens existing jobs. In Chicago earlier this month, critics gathered at the Free Minds, Free People conference to discuss the organization’s role in the local school system.

    Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, told HuffPost Live Monday that she feels Teach For America educators and leaders have done “extremely damaging reform” to the education system, placing inexperienced teachers with the neediest students and putting other teachers’ jobs at risk.

  23. Arielle

    Just finished up NYC Institute and at one of the sessions, they handed out a list of books we should read. Your books were on the list.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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