Programming Note: a close friend of one of the blog editors just finished a Teach for America assignment. The TFA Alum sent the end-of-term evaluation answers to said editor friend. With permission, we are publishing it. The TFA Alum’s answers are denoted in regular type, while background information (such as what the Teach for America prompts said) are bolded. The response below is unedited, except to obscure identifying features.
Question asked to rank how likely you would be to recommend TFA to a
friend or family member. I put 0, or 1 (whatever the lowest was).
Since I have felt so incompatible with Teach for America, I cannot
see myself genuinely recommending this program to someone else.
I definitely think Teach for America is doing some great things and
there are some incredible TFA teachers out there. I also believe that
TFA is extremely well intentioned. The following is just my own
reality and my experience with this organization. I am going to try
to explain with brevity, but am definitely willing to answer more
questions or have more conversations on these things.
1) Elitist Culture
Teach for America has been my first encounter with elitist culture and
I have a problem with this since the organization is devoted to ending
educational inequality for low-income children and elitism seems
counter to what we are here for. Examples include: the focus on
prestige and how accomplished us corps members are, the induction
booze cruises and Chevron dinners, the socials that seem like
high-class, wine and cheese events, etc. I feel uncomfortable at TFA
socials because I have never been around high-class culture. If I
feel this way, then I can’t image how someone feels who is coming from
less privilege than I am. It also bothers me to be part of a corps
whose biggest complaint after year one is that we do not have enough
social events. Is that really what money should be spent on? I feel
sad and bothered by this because these types of socials seem like a
college extension for privileged kids, and I didn’t think that was
part of what we signed up for.
I expressed my concerns about race during my first year and am very
grateful for the empathy, openness, and genuine concerns from people
on regional and national staff. However, things definitely still
First, I just don’t believe that TFA talks enough about race,
isolating it. Paulo Freire said that the first step towards
liberation is being able to name your oppression. It does not seem
that there is much collective enlightenment amongst us corps members,
or TFA staff, about the forces which oppress the kids we teach -
institutionalized racism and institutionalized classism. Our own
ignorance leads to a failure to guide our children towards being able
to name the forces against them.
On the Teach for America website, “The Challenge” section is very
focused on socioeconomic status, with only one line addressing racial
challenges - ”Because children in low-income communities are
predominantly children of color, they also face the added burden of
societal low expectations and discrimination.” Two notes about this.
First of all, I might be mistaken, but I don’t think this is true.
Though there is a higher proportion of children of color living in
poverty, in actual numbers, there are more white children living in
poverty. (http://www.nccp.org/media/releases/release_34.html) My
second thought is that it is important to isolate race and recognize
that race alone is enough to affect children and their education, SES
aside. (papers on stereotype threat by Claude Steel, or similar
researchers might be a good resource for investigating this more -
Glenn Singleton is also a good resource)
Another thing - I don’t have all the numbers, but I know that the CEO,
the President, and the majority of The ****** Office is white. It’s
great that white people care and are part of this movement. It is not
great that there are not more people of color leading a movement that
predominantly serves children of color and has a mission to improve
these children’s education. I definitely believe that white people
should be involved; but when white people are leading the entire
movement and offering the majority of the solutions, I think there is
a problem. To me, this is like a feminist organization, focused on
women’s rights and obtaining equality for women, run predominantly by
men. Should men be involved? Of course! Should men be leading the
movement, speaking for the female experience, and offering the
majority of the solutions. Absolutely not! Especially not men who
have a hard time talking about institutionalized sexism or confronting
their own socialized sexism. White people were involved in the Civil
Rights Movement, but they were not the top people leading - they
worked alongside people of color. To me, closing the achievement gap
is the new Civil Rights Movement - we absolutely need to be 1) working
alongside people of color & 2) deepening our knowledge and
self-reflections, even when it is painful or uncomfortable.
3) Quantitative Data
For me, it seems that the majority of the data focus within the Teach
for America organization is on quantitative data. Our entire lesson
planning training involves backwards planning from standards and a
test. There is not the same amount of intense training put into
building classroom cultures, increasing children’s emotional
intelligence, raising social awareness, or guiding our children to
think critically or find their passions. I just think that
hyper-focus on quantitative data can be harmful to the development of
the children that we teach. I also know that this is something TFA is
working on, which is good.
That is why I would not recommend TFA to a friend or family member.