Feb 22 2014

Guest Post Series. Part One: How Interning for TFA Convinced me of its Injustice

Recently, several people have contacted me with interesting stories they wanted to share with the people who read this blog.  In the coming weeks there will be more guest posts like this one from Bryn Mawr College senior Emma Gulley.

How Interning for Teach For America Convinced me of its Injustice

Over the past several months I’ve seen more and more articles critiquing Teach for America. Former corps members brought light to the injustice of their experiences. Professors explained why TFA was problematic for students. Policy experts outlined its detriment to school districts. Links to their articles popped up again and again on my Facebook newsfeed, on my Twitter timeline, and on email listservs I was a part of.

There was a kind of underground excitement I felt that I was witnessing when I saw these articles gain popularity–at last, I felt, the problems, heartache, frustration, and anxiety I had felt with TFA were coming into the light. It is now that I want to add my voice to the arena, and to be one more person standing up against Teach for America, as I try to explain how my direct involvement with Teach for America as an intern exposed to all of the dirty, secret recruiting practices and agendas of the Philadelphia offices, that convinced me of its injustice.

I sat in on my first Teach for America information session as a wide-eyed 17-year-old college freshman. It was a hot summer day in New York City and the professional shoes I had talked myself into wearing to the TFA Head Quarters were cutting into the heels of my feet. Once I arrived at HQ I found my name tag, introduced myself to the nearby TFA executives and managers, whose average age, I remember noticing, must have been 25, and filtered into the meeting room, one of fifty other well-intentioned millenials who had been invited to come and learn about how they could, singlehandedly, Fix Educational Inequity and Solve Injustice.

Sitting in that information session, I was force-fed TFA discourse that promised me that, if I completed their program, I would “devote” two years of my life towards “solving this generation’s civil rights issue” while being a “hero” to my students. Quickly, in the next breath, they told me that it didn’t matter if I didn’t want to be a teacher my entire life, because after my two years with Teach for America, I could apply to law school, business school, or medical school, because Teach for America has relationships with many graduate schools. They told me participating in Teach for America would be my way of “making a difference” and “being a hero” to my students and that I should teach as a way of “giving back.”

And I believed them.

I wanted what they said to be true, I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I wanted to be surrounded by people who valued children. When I met the recruiter for Bryn Mawr several months later and she told me there was an internship for college students to spread TFA’s message throughout their campus, I couldn’t fill out the application fast enough. And so, in the middle of my sophomore year, I began my journey with Teach for America.

My manager was a kind woman who remembered my birthday and dotted her emails with happy faces. The tasks she asked me to complete were innocent enough—forward emails to so-and-so; hang flyers here; run a facebook page about Bryn Mawr and TFA. In my spring semester I registered for my college’s “Intro to Education” seminar, called Critical Issues in Education. After immersing myself into a new discourse about education, broadly speaking, and all of its nuances and implications, I developed misgivings about Teach for America–how could 5 weeks be enough training? What happened to the kids in summer school who were corps members’ “practice students?”–but I still believed TFA was sending bright, hard-working college graduates into classrooms whose students would otherwise have substitute teachers, and so I swallowed my hesitation and forged ahead with my internship. As my sophomore year came to a close, my manager told me she thought I would be an excellent candidate for TFA’s next level of internship. I would be a Campus Campaign Coordinator (CCC), and they told me I would essentially have the same responsibilities I had as an intern, only now I would get paid for all of my work. I signed on the dotted line and began the last leg of my journey with Teach for America, not knowing all that it would require from me.

For starters, I was not only responsible for hanging flyers, responding to emails, or inviting people to TFA’s events. I was responsible for actively seeking them out, for “identifying leaders,” and for supplying their names, email addresses, even majors and extra curricular activities, to my manager. In our CCC training we were told we were indispensable to the recruitment efforts because we knew our campuses better than anyone else but I did not realize I had signed up to be a powerless gateway between the campus culture I treasured so much and the corporate ladder of TFA. My manager wanted me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with–present on TFA to every club on campus, ask professors if I could make an announcement about TFA in their classes, partner with the career office to organize a Teach for America breakfast–and shamed me when I didn’t. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t comfortable with them, since all of her other CCCs at other schools had done similar initiatives with great success–meaning, of course, that the events had provided the CCC with a stack of names of individual students who would then likely be added to various email list serves and spreadsheets. She could not understand why I did not want to pitch TFA to clubs with no connection to education. She could not understand why I did not want to bribe people to apply to the program with bagels. She could not understand that I respected Bryn Mawr’s faculty too much to ask them to give me ten minutes of class time to present on an organization whose name is well-known–and, generally, hated–throughout the campus community. Every time I didn’t “go above and beyond” or kill myself to hang TFA posters around campus at midnight for “shock value” the next day (yes, this was an honest suggestion my manager had for me during one of my performance reviews) my manager would remind me: A) that I’m also proving my leadership through this role for when I do decide to apply to TFA, which I shouldn’t forget, B) that I’m “ultimately doing this for the kids,” and C) that TFA is a “no excuses” organization for winners.

“The next deadline overlaps with finals.” “No excuses.”

“But he told me he doesn’t want to be a teacher.” “No excuses.”

TFA’s “no excuses” attitude is not healthy for its interns, not healthy, I would venture to guess, for its managers or corps members, and it is certainly not healthy for its students who have the misfortune of being placed in a corps member’s classroom. “No excuses” cannot coexist with “critical thinking.” “No excuses” cannot coexist with “self care” or “mental health.”

My time with TFA, even as an intern, wore on me. I never felt good about myself. I felt bad about myself–and stupid and lazy–every time I got off the phone with my manager. It was exhausting, demeaning, and upsetting to constantly fall short of her expectations, but I refused to follow through on her suggestions which I thought were offensive, elitist, and colonialist in their approach. During our CCC training TFA told me I would be working about seven hours each week “give or take,” but there were weeks where I worked 20 hours–where I emailed instead of slept.

I was unhappy every minute I worked for TFA. But I told myself I had to continue working for them because I had, somewhere, internalized the mantra TFA uses to bully so many college seniors into starting applications. You know, the job market is tough. Just start an application–it only takes an hour. It’s a competitive marketplace–just submit an application. It never hurts to have an option–we’re nonbinding. I told myself that, by doing TFA, I was giving myself an option and guaranteeing myself a future job as a corps member–I was forging a pathway to my future classroom. TFA led me to believe that, for someone like me, with a humanities/social science background, TFA is “the only option.”

It was around December of my junior year when I began to realize my future with TFA had to be short lived. My friends grew concerned for me when they realized I hardly had the time, or mental capacity, to go out for dinner or see a movie. My professors asked me if I was getting enough sleep. I was 19 years old, I was surrounded by incredible friends, I lived in a castle of a dorm, I loved all of my classes, and I was profoundly unhappy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it was around the same time that my unhappiness with TFA peaked that I realized, in my heart of hearts, I did want to be a teacher. My education seminars had inspired, fascinated, and compelled me–I grew to love questioning notions of school and education; I grew to love discussing the child within the student. I did not want to teach for a while; I did not want to teach for America. I wanted to teach for myself and for my future students. I wanted to teach to honor the profession, to learn every day, and to do what made me happy. It was when I gained the courage to admit that to myself that, with the help of some very understanding education professors and friends, I realized I could not stay a part of TFA any longer. I could not contribute to the deprofessionalization of teaching. I could not contribute to the problematic, privileged rhetoric of education reform. I could not do my past teachers, and future colleagues, the disservice of spending one more ounce of energy contributing to TFA’s aura over a future generation.

I wrote to my manager and I told her a lie. I told her a family emergency had come up and that I would no longer have the time to work for TFA. I told her I had loved my time with TFA, that I had learned from the experience, and that I looked forward to applying in the future. I received back a curt email saying she regretted my decision, but respected it, but would I mind hanging up the hundred flyers she had just put in the mail to me?

No excuses.

I was chewed up and spit out by the TFA machine.

Leaving TFA was like leaving a cult. Even after my manager received my resignation email I would get occasional emails asking me to do something for their initiative on campus “as a favor.” TFA does not like you to leave their inner circle. You can unsubscribe from their general newsletters, but it’s harder to unsubscribe from someone you once exchanged holiday presents with. I was shaken for weeks after resigning from TFA. I was relieved and better-rested and happier, but I was also afraid–of what, exactly, I am still not sure. I felt that I just barely escaped Teach for America’s dream cycle–indeed, TFA’s indoctrination. I was introduced to TFA as a college freshman, I interned for them for two years, and, had they had it “their way,” I would have interned for them for another year before teaching for two years and then being hired as a recruitment manager. The cycle from recruited to recruiter would be complete. I do feel that I was briefly inducted into a cult, and escaped to tell the tale, which is more than I can say for any other CCC I have ever met.

It is now my senior year of college. The woman who had been my manager has moved to another department within TFA, and on August 1st I got my first recruiting email from my Bryn Mawr’s new lead recruiter. She has sent me some of the most worrisome and disturbing emails I have ever received. TFA has responded to the valid, well-articulated articles by former corps members critiquing TFA that went viral several months ago by telling me their words aren’t valid because they weren’t in the right “corps member mindset.” TFA has tried to convince me to support their efforts by buying a shirt from J. Crew. TFA has tried to convince me to apply to the program by bribing me with a holiday gift. I have not responded to these emails.

The decision to not apply to TFA was very conscious–its effects on school policy and environment are well known: TFA teachers are by and large less successful than their traditionally certified colleagues; TFA teachers by and large do not stay in the classroom past their two year commitment; TFA’s 5 weeks of training can never match the slow, deliberate introduction to the art of teaching undergraduates and graduates pursuing traditional certification have access to.

It is in writing this article that I hope to bring voice, agency, and power to my decision to not apply to Teach for America. It is in writing this article that I hope to show other interns, affiliates, and potential corps members just how horribly TFA treats its interns, and just how dirty, upsetting, and shocking the underbelly of the beast is. It is in writing this article that I hope to expose TFA for what it is, from the intern’s perspective–a bully, a monolith, and a cult. It was my experience as intern with TFA, directly entangled with a new Goliath, that convinced me, not just of its injustice, but of its intentional evil.

46 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. What a load of crap to dump on a college student who’s just trying to do the right thing.

  2. Meg

    This seems more than a little melodramatic. I’m failing to see how we go from recruiting corps members (which was her job) to “intentional evil”.

    • Tom Bishop

      Anyone who has tried to deprogram out of a cult recognizes the symptoms Ms. Gulley describes. That you cannot validate her struggle and her emotions says more about you than about her. No wonder some teachers are so passive about the attacks on public education.

      • Meg

        I suppose that’s one way to avoid listening to counterarguments.

        • Meghank

          What was your counter argument? I’m afraid I don’t see one in that comment you posted there.

    • Catherine

      TFA is evil. Its mantra is helping poor kids, its actual brief is destroying public education.

  3. Heidi Reich

    Are you kidding, Meg? The supervisor woman ground this kid up. If the kid had not been self-aware and in a supportive environment, I can see her having been intimidated into staying with TfA with no regard for her own future. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen” is not a fitting (albeit only implicit) slogan for an educational organization. Based on this account, I am convinced that TfA is opportunistic, manipulative and goal-focused to the point of utter disregard for their employees’ welfare. While apparently that doesn’t quite qualify as evil in your book, I hope you agree that it isn’t too far off the mark.

    • Meg

      I think it’s foolish to use an anecdote from a single individual to either condemn or exalt an entire organization, TFA or otherwise. She had a poor supervisor. What working adult hasn’t had a similar experience? And no, demanding/callous supervisors do not qualify as evil in my book. Not even close.

      • HB

        However Meg, this story was not written in a vacuum. This story has been repeated by many former TFA’s. 2 years to improve schools, what a laugh. In 2 years you might just figure out the building you’re in.

      • Meghank

        Hey Meg. I remembered you were in Memphis from a previous comment, and I was just hoping for an update on how you’re doing. Are you still at your original school?

        • Meg

          Thanks for checking in :-) I’m still in Memphis teaching at my original school, and just signed my intent to be back there next year.

      • Alison McDowell

        Check out #resistTFA on Twitter. She is not alone.

      • faith paul

        So, Meg, you are pro-TFA. Frankly, whether you appreciate Emma’s sharing her experience or not, her testimonial is beyond anecdotal. The American education system bears enough burdens and failings with professionals who have sincerely and completely committed their work-life to service, it is beyond comprehension that ANY organization would be given carte blanche license to circumvent the teacher preparation process — especially in the interest of providing “superior” teachers for documented failing schools. I might have chosen another major or professional focus years ago, but I would have never been so presuming as to think I should be granted professional standing in any arena without the rigorous training and education I sought and received before earning a viable and meaningful degree and state-granted license.

  4. LHP

    It sounds like what Opus Dei has been accused of doing on campus. http://www.odan.org/questionable_practices.htm
    Campus Crusade for Christ has also been scrutinized for indoctrination. This blog post sounds eerily like Ms. Gulley’s. http://arealrattlesnake.com/2013/03/23/spiritual-abuse-why-i-left-campus-crusade-for-christ/
    I wonder if there is a web page for TFA survivors to discuss their rescues!

  5. Heidi Reich

    Sure, Meg. But there is a growing narrative by people who were trained by TfA (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/i-quit-teach-for-america/279724/; http://cloakinginequity.com/2014/02/02/narrative-vs-counter-narrative-teach-for-america-in-their-own-words/, for starters). And furthermore I am not calling out one callous supervisor; if you read the account, the author is indicting the organization for using manipulative, emotional rhetoric to get young people to do a really difficult job with minimal training. The author of this piece found it difficult enough to RECRUIT for the organization. She doesn’t even mention the thousands of young people who are poorly trained by TfA to teach traditionally-underserved students.

  6. yoteach

    Meg. I think you’re right, “intentional evil” is a difficult bar to reach. That being said, I’m very happy Emma shared her story in this forum. I think looking at TFA from the recruitment angle gets at their problematic elements much better than from the perspective of a corps member who quit because they felt unprepared.

    I see the problems Emma faced as endemic of a badly run organization with misaligned incentives. Clearly, it’s important to TFA to have a very high application rate so they can boast of their selectivity, yet I have not been presented with evidence that the people who require the most convincing are as likely to be dedicated teachers (though I have many friends who did not think they wanted to be teachers who ended up blowing me away). My guess is too many managers are evaluated based on meaningless measures like # of total recruits. The “no excuses” line is very true, but I those managers have probably been given a similar line when they underperform or don’t buy into the measures of success.

    Gary, thank’s for hosting this, I think it’s a good idea and I hope you have people whose views range from lukewarm–> boldly against, not just the latter.

    A final thought: Gary you mentioned in a previous post that people should who work for TFA staff should quit. My worry with that line of reasoning is that those most skeptical/open-minded would be the first to go, leaving the ones who blindly hold employees hostage to “no excuses” “it’s for the kids” management around meaningless statistics (if anyone’s interested, a great book “Exit, Loyalty, and Voice” get’s at this phenomenon). If you want TFA to improve, you better hope the smart ones stick around.

  7. Kai

    Is this for real? Are we really going to infer evil intention here? I can’t even get as far as ‘bad manager.’ The intern had a job to do as laid out for her by TFA. That’s how jobs work, intern or not. It’s not like she was held hostage. Any company can be reframed as partaking in ‘indoctrination.’ The company has every and all right to expect that you will perform the job they lay out for you as long as it is within legal limits, and there are plenty of protections in place to ensure that. Not liking or not wanting to do the job you were hired to do is another matter altogether. My grandparents would have called that privileged, entitled, or more likely simply lazy. I’ll cut her some slack since I don’t know her and say that I see it as naive. Work is work and doing your job well is determined by the standards of the company you work for.

    • xian

      Substandard reply! No Excuses!

  8. adrilicious

    Where’s the data about traditional track teachers performing better than TFA teachers (not rhetorical, I just try to read everything myself)

    • Educator

      Don’t forget. “Performing better” in education speak means multiple choice standardized exam scores, which Gary has blogged about before. Is this what education is about?

      Here’s a good blog that wrestles with this question:
      http://gatsbyinla.wordpress.com/

      And here’s a good post written about a TFA alum:
      http://gatsbyinla.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/why-the-great-teacher-myth-doesnt-help-kids/

    • laMissy

      Then there’s common sense, too.
      How can someone, no matter their native intelligence, be better at an extremely compex task when they have little training and no experience when compared with someone with years of formal training and much experience?

      Perhaps you refer to TFA teachers who remain in the classroom for a long period of time? There aren’t many, compared to traditionally trained teachers who make their careers in the classroom.

  9. Educator

    OK, let’s agree intentional evil is too strong.
    And let’s agree maybe this was one bad manager of many bad managers in the world.

    But this story resonates with a lot of stories of current or ex-teachers in TFA-ish types of school systems, especially no excuses charters. I guess we can keep saying no excuses tough luck find another job to the teachers, but the trouble is that this mindset is transferring to students now – tough luck no excuses you better score well on the state exam or else you need to leave this school. This creates a lot of problems.

    Anyhow, the author has guts I applaud her. I think we can agree that speaking out against a powerful organization, whether you agree or not with it, takes a certain amount of strength.

  10. CitizensArrest

    I think there is a strong case to be made for “evil intent” here. There is an obvious effort in America to demonize traditionally trained teachers that is motivated in large part by the attempt to gain “market share” in what is seen by many as the education market place. TFA is definitely colluding with others on that. If TFA was truly that much better, it would just ignore traditionally trained teachers and surpass them by being better than they are. Based on everything that I have read about TFA, that is definitely not the case. Gaining market share by attacking and trying to destroy your competition is in fact an act of evil and also a sign of the inferiority of your product. It’s what happens when you have not built that better mouse trap but merely say that you have.

    • M J. Meyer

      The key for TFA is to go through the state legislatures and get legislation passed and signed that public schools are required that a certain % of TFA licensed people are hired FIRST when there are vacancies in state funded public schools, and then traditionally trained educators can considered ONLY if there is not a TFA person that wants the position. Contracts with TFA “grads” go first in line for vacancies.

  11. Lisa Alva

    Emma, thank you for telling your story, and I’m pleased that you’re still intending to teach; the profession will benefit from your reflective and forthright style. I hope you will look for places at your school district and teachers union to pursue your obvious leadership interests. As you mature in the profession, you’ll begin to understand that our unions, albeit alienating at times, are necessary for preserving public education in the face of TFA and other ill-informed and mis-intended entities. It’s up to us to be involved with our unions and shape them into what we need them to be.

  12. Mom of TFA corp member

    TFA is a corrupt people-using machine! Don’t drink the koolaid people. You will regret it! They are so completely inept and say everything is for the kids-which is garbage! I am a longtime classroom teacher and what my daughter, as a corp member, has had to endure is criminal.

  13. jan

    Intentional evil is not too strong. This isn’t just your garden variety self-serving corp; the main purpose of TFA is to supply cheap scabs (at a premium to schools) to bust up the union and allow the schools to be privatized into profit, factory, ditto head companies…

    • Meg

      TFA teachers are paid the same amount as traditionally trained teachers with similar experience. The cheap labor line is overdone and inaccurate.

      • Meghank

        They are paid the same as a first year teacher while more experienced, better-paid career educators are losing their jobs to make room for them. Be accurate, please.

      • Educator

        The criticisms that TFA faces concerning the point of pay is:

        - Normally, more experienced teachers get paid more. The theory is that more experience has value (and it’s not necessarily just test score value).
        - Many ed reformers are claiming that teachers should be paid by “performance” – they state performance should be based on student achievement. What they really mean is performance by standardized test scores.
        - TFA has issued studies saying that CMs perform as well, or sometimes even better, than traditional teachers with the same experience. Again, this is purely defined by multiple choice test scores of students.
        - Reformers have said that more teachers need to teach like these teachers.

        In school systems, then, it seems like the high test score teachers are those who work like many corps members – everything is defined by the test score, and the systems put in place, like charters, put ultimate power in test score results. Hence, a system of charters that seem to know how to do test scores well – their training is super focused on test scores and teaching methods that raise test scores, and their governance encourages salaries like the ones mentioned in this NY Times article:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/nyregion/gilded-crusade-for-charters-rolls-onward.html?smid=tw-share

        Since test scores are so important, you’ll see things like this happen:

        http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/TCR-Dirty-Dozen

        So in order to raise test scores, one might not necessarily need more experienced teachers. Replace them with cheaper less experienced teachers who will work temporarily for 2 years or so. Make teaching a temporary career, as long as those test scores increase.

        I’d agree with all of the above actually IF the goal of public education was to raise test scores. Reformers would argue that these test score results are a social justice issue of our time – that poor minority students need to get the same test scores as their more well off peers. That this would ultimately end inequity.

      • Educator

        The criticisms that TFA faces concerning the point of pay is:

        - Normally, more experienced teachers get paid more. The theory is that more experience has value (and it’s not necessarily just test score value).
        - Many ed reformers are claiming that teachers should be paid by “performance” – they state performance should be based on student achievement. What they really mean is performance by standardized test scores.
        - TFA has issued studies saying that CMs perform as well, or sometimes even better, than traditional teachers with the same experience. Again, this is purely defined by multiple choice test scores of students.
        - Reformers have said that more teachers need to teach like these teachers.

        In school systems, then, it seems like the high test score teachers are those who work like many corps members – everything is defined by the test score, and the systems put in place, like charters, put ultimate power in test score results. Hence, a system of charters that seem to know how to do test scores well – their training is super focused on test scores and teaching methods that raise test scores, and their governance encourages salaries like the ones mentioned in this NY Times article:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/nyregion/gilded-crusade-for-charters-rolls-onward.html?smid=tw-share

        Since test scores are so important, you’ll see things like this happen:

        http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/TCR-Dirty-Dozen

        So in order to raise test scores, one might not necessarily need more experienced teachers. Replace them with cheaper less experienced teachers who will work temporarily for 2 years or so. Make teaching a temporary job, as long as those test scores increase.

        I’d agree that all of the above is OK actually IF the goal of public education was to raise test scores. Reformers would argue that these test score results are a social justice issue of our time – that poor minority students need to get the same test scores as their more well off peers. That this would ultimately end inequity. So many reformers are OK with taking a small section of a neighborhood and raising their test scores, even at the expense of special ed, ELL, and more marginalized students who cost more to educate. That’s why they’re OK with a high dropout rate from their charter network. This is what Gary has blogged about so much, and I agree with him.

        Not all charters are bad though. I’ve seen some good ones.

        • Christine Langhoff

          “So in order to raise test scores, one might not necessarily need more experienced teachers. Replace them with cheaper less experienced teachers who will work temporarily for 2 years or so. Make teaching a temporary job, as long as those test scores increase.”

          Do we understand how insane – and inane – this goal is? The test scores have to continue to rise, but they are not even the same cohort of kids being tested! Next year’s test scores of a different set of kids must be higher than this year’s scores. It defies logic, but it is currently the major driver in our public schools.

          Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, is a fictional place.

  14. The TFA narrative is over. The TFA truth squads are having fun at this point. But..

    The uber-financed ability of TFA to brings these slick marketing campaigns to kids on campus has been exposed for a long long time.

    The manipulations and lies of TFA have been exposed for a long long time.

    One of the main things that keeps TFA in business at this point is that it is highly subsidized and supported by the plutocracy and the “one percent of the one percent…” At many campuses and other places where its subsidized minions wander, there is nobody to insist on the facts before the mythmaking continues.

    But that was true from the day it began getting all the mindless publicity out of Princeton as the brilliant idea of a brilliant young lady (who had never done a couple of years of public schools teaching but “knew” that all those poor and middle class men and women who went into public school teaching weren’t ready for the influx of “the best and the brightest” to swell our ranks…).

    This narrative was bullshit from the onset, and only could be sold during an era when the attacks on the public schools were beginning. The TFA story today has been exposed by those who were TFA student victims (the thousands of kids who had to endure classes with those arrogant FNG teachers who couldn’t cut it but were elitists from among the “best and the brightest”) and the huge number of TFA whistle blowers who have joined our ranks.

    The only things remaining for truth to do is clean out the remaining hives of TFAers in the schools and demand that they learn how to teach before they are sicced on our kids (I still have two in a Chicago public school, and they are getting great teachers from veteran Chicago teachers who are also strong union teachers) and to clean them out from all of the administrative and political offices they infest.

    Basically, if someone has TFA on her resume, she is guilty of union busting, teacher bashing, and privatization pushing — unless and until proven innocent.

  15. Julie

    I think Meg and Kai are trying to let TFA off the hook on the grounds that TFA is “just another employer” or “an employer like any other employer” — meaning of course they have the right to expect that their employees “do what they’re told”.
    This would be fair enough (and probably reflects the reality in any event) except for the fact that TFA deliberately proclaims its own status as “saviour-like” viz. urban and other children — as the original post author wrote “who would otherwise be taught by a sub”. It seems perfectly fair that if TFA is serving as a kind of saviour for urban children, it should be held to a higher standard in its dealings with others.
    I teach in an urban school that doesn’t have any TFA-ers — or any real trouble filling its classrooms with fully certified, professional career educators. My colleagues are amazing, wonderful teachers — better than the ones I worked with in my former position in the suburbs, and there is no way any 5-week preparation program could turn the smartest possible new college grad into any of that. We have high quality career educators — not business people who think they know things that teachers don’t — as our admin people as well. That’s the fix for urban education: quality admin people will get quality teachers and those schools, urban / poverty or otherwise will provide success — that’s what schools need, not TFA with its Messiah complex.

  16. 2012er

    Elevated, polarizing rhetoric derails dialogue. Phrases such as “intentional evil” and “cult” do not discount the authenticity of this account, but they do diminish its receptivity. We cannot communicate via hyperboles, overstatements and grandiosities–on either side of the reform debate–or else both sides will retreat to their respective ideological camps.

    I write this not to blame the author, for it takes courage to publicly post such an account. However, time and time again I have seen an amplified, negative tone advanced by Gary on this blog [and those of other anti-TFA writers]. Despite myriad, valid criticisms, many are turned off to these writings because of the way they are presented. This is unfortunate, but true.

    Tone matters. Word choice matters. We need to write in order to communicate, rather than vilify, if we are to actually get anywhere.

    • Meghank

      If it’s true, it’s true. Evil is evil, and intent is intent. Disguising it with different words helps no one. That’s my opinion at least, and I have a right to give it.

  17. I would like to know, in detail, what the five weeks of training covers. What are the readings? Who lectures? What are the bullet points? Do they role play? I would love to know exactly what happens at those training sessions.

  18. Really?

    I worked as an operations coordinator at a summer institute during college and I’ve been friends with some CCCs and i found myself constantly rolling my eyes at this account. There may be truth to her experience, but it IS melodramatic.

    All of the things Emma “didn’t feel comfortable doing” are the biggest parts of being a CCC. I understand not wanting to present during your professor’s class, but providing a list of campus leaders and presenting during club meetings are not hard at all. Holding a meet-and-greet breakfast could prove to be helpful for interested seniors applying to TFA. If anything, it sounds like the campus recruiter didn’t do HER job in meeting with students & spreading the word herself.

    I understand having a bad experience, but the author makes it seem like TFA ruined her life when she just could have been in over her head with a Campus Campaign Coordinator position. It really isn’t the hardest thing in the world. You’re interacting with college students, not children, so I really don’t see how this account directly correlates with classroom experience

  19. Lucas

    This year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible campus leaders, delve deeply into the important education issues that impact our communities, and learn and grow in so many ways. Serving as a campus intern for Teach For America has been a powerful experience. I was surprised to read former campus intern Emma Gulley’s recent blog post because our experiences seem to have been radically different.

    I was inspired to become involved in the field of education after my internship with the Breakthrough Collaborative. On my summers off from Penn, I’ve had the privilege to teach some amazing middle schools student in San Juan Capistrano — a mostly Hispanic, low-income community a few miles away from my own hometown in California. They were separated by a short distance, but our schools could have been worlds apart. Growing up in Orange County I was fortunate to have excellent local public schools with committed teachers and a breath of educational opportunity. My students, however, faced a lack of resources and the oppression of low expectations. Their enthusiasm of both life and learning inspired me to pursue this work. Teaching under the direction of two TFA alumni, I was encouraged to think about applying to the corps after graduation.
    Back at Penn, I used my free time to do more research on Teach For America, talking to current corps members and visiting their classrooms. I know I want to channel my energies toward fighting the opportunity gap and I’ve decided that Teach For America is the right path for me. Starting this summer, I’ll begin doing just that as I train to be a teacher in Phoenix.

    In the meantime, I spread the word at Penn about the opportunity gap as an intern for TFA. I hang fliers, talk to people interested in getting involved, and I give presentations on campus. I am sorry to read that Emma felt uncomfortable and unsuccessful in her role; I’ve felt respected, supported, and in control of my time in mine. The work is incredibly salient at Penn given the educational landscape of the surrounding community. In Philadelphia, 31.3 percent of kids live in poverty and only about 40 percent of students in Philadelphia rank proficient in reading and math. By speaking to people from all backgrounds, rather than solely education majors, I am able to spread awareness and encourage people to take action.
    Through this work, I have been given the opportunity to interact with fellow interns from across the region. Despite coming from different backgrounds, we were united in our conviction about creating a more just world. We began the year with a training session in the fall, where we learned more about the challenges public schools in low-income communities face and Teach For America’s work to support excellent public education. Through the support of Teach For America staff, we were given tools and tips for how to stay organized and how to balance our different responsibilities.
    I’ve had a busy, exciting year as a campus intern, but expectations from my manager were always transparent from the beginning. With her leadership and the help of my teammates, we brainstormed effective ways to engage the Penn community. My manager was supportive in helping us execute our ideas and was flexible when things did not turn out as planned. Juggling classes and commitments can be tough, and conversations about race, class and privilege can be uncomfortable. But I’ve found that without those tough conversations, we aren’t going to create the change our kids deserve. For me, balancing my commitments has come down to prioritizing my time and taking responsibility for my choices.

    I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is a network of passionate people who are committed to expanding opportunity for kids who need our support most. Teach For America works to build a more diverse teaching corps and grow the number of leaders working from inside the classroom and beyond to change a status quo that isn’t working for far too many students. The majority of Teach For America alumni work full-time in education and others are working in other fields that address issues of poverty. The disparity in educational opportunity along lines of race and class is inextricably linked to issues of health, the justice system, the economy, the environment, and the streets our kids walk to and from school. While we can’t ignore these challenges, we also can’t let them stop us from working toward educational equity.

    I’ve decided to channel my energy into closing the gap by teaching, volunteering, and having uncomfortable conversations about privilege in our country. I hope more people join the effort.

    • You realize this is a blog and not a job interview, right?

  20. Mom of TFA corp member

    TFA doesn’t support corp members. It places many of them in charter schools that have no right even calling themselves schools. If corp members complain, they are told-”you knew what you were signing up for, now work harder and stop complaining.” This program needs to be exposed as a money-making machine, not a nonprofit organization. My daughter wants to be a teacher for the long haul, not just as a resume credit. I have been a professional educator since 1984, I know very well how schools should be run and how teachers should be trained and mentored. TFA is a joke!

  21. breezy

    Intentional evil? You’re kidding. Just sounds like a tough boss. Frankly, if we replaced TFA’s name in this article with another organization, it would just sound like you had an intense internship — something not atypical.

    I could care less about whether or not this supports Teach For America, to be honest. However, real feedback, is that kid — if you look back on this internship in five years and think *that* was tough, I’ll be surprised. That “no excuses” mantra feels like every job I’ve ever held.

    This post reeks of entitlement. Not only do you assume that you know anything about the workforce “as it should treat you”, but also about education policy. With that lack of humility, and whining about working 20 hours a week (many college kids do it…), I really hope you won’t be teaching kids.

  22. Mom of TFA corp member

    TFA, charter schools, Bill Gates foundation…all are corrupt and using our children as a money making venture with all their foundations contributing big money. TFA is run in the most inept fashion. Wake up people! Do some research and read Dianne Ravitch’s book Reign of Error if you want to better understand the serious danger the educational system in this country is currently facing!

  23. Mom of TFA corp member

    TFA, charter schools, Bill Gates foundation…all are corrupt and using our children as a money making venture with all their foundations contributing big money. TFA is run in the most inept fashion. Wake up people! Do some research and read Dianne Ravitch’s book Reign of Error if you want to better understand the serious danger the educational system in this country is currently facing! Follow the money and see where it leads. It is not being used for the betterment of our children.

About this Blog

By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

Subscribe to this blog (feed)


Subscribe via RSS

”subscribe

Reluctant Disciplinarian on Amazon

Beyond Survival On Amazon

RSS Feed

Subscribe