I just read the article from the Atlanta Blackstar – a publication that I personally enjoy – and was disappointed by what I read. Are we still trying to blame Teach for America for the ills in teaching even when we know TFA makes up a fraction of all of the new teachers that come into the profession?

In 2013, there was a total of 3.5 million teachers. You know how many teachers TFA brought in this fall? Drumroll…a whopping 8,800 corps members. Even if you add up all of the alumni we are at just over 42,000. It’s a decent number but when you stand it next to 3.5 million it’s a drop in the bucket, but let these folks tell it, TFA spells the end of public education.

Yo, I’m going to keep it all the way real with you, public education was failing poor Black kids way before Wendy Kopp wrote the thesis that would eventually launch TFA. I know folks want to act like public education was the bee’s knees in the 80’s, but I promise you it wasn’t. Travel to the Cooley High 70’s and guess what, it was still crap for poor Black folks.

I mean let’s have an honest conversation.

Of the 8,800 number, 49% are people of color compared to a profession where – even without TFA – 80% of teachers are white women.

47% of TFA corps members are Pell Grant recipients with 33% being the first in their family to graduate from college.

Come on, now. We gotta start having a different conversation!

The Blackstar said that TFA was sending idealist young white people into school districts they didn’t understand. Hey, that may be true on some level but I worked for TFA and I worked side by side with some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met in my life.

I know that the media will have you believing that everyone associated with TFA came from American royalty and has a $200K per year job waiting after 2 years but I can assure that isn’t the case here.

I didn’t come from a wealthy family. In fact, I came straight from the hood. I went to 11 elementary schools. I was homeless for many of those years. Both of my parents were crack heads. I didn’t get into education to get rich, I got into education because my education was terrible. I wanted to work in the neighborhood I grew up in to help because I know what’s at stake for these kids. I’ve buried friends.

Believe me, I know what’s at stake.

Our Oakland TFA team worked hard to bring in a diverse class of teachers that gave their all. I know we did because as a staff member, we are all responsible for recruiting and matriculating amazing people from prospects to actual corps members. I spoke with those folks that grew up in the Bay Area and wanted very much to teach in Oakland. I stood next to my friend and played with her baby while she went to our professional development because she was a single mother from Oakland that wanted to dedicate her life to educating children.

I stood next to a brother who joined the corps because his son would soon be entering public education and he wouldn’t accept the status quo for his baby.

I was part of a team that flew out more than 200 Black teachers from all over the country every year for the last 3 years to Morehouse College where we spend significant time setting a high bar for our students. I’m proud of the work we did together and I stand by it.

Does everyone work out, of course not. The same can be said for teachers that come into the game in the traditional way. It’s a tough job with crap pay and apparently people don’t want you around if you came through the TFA pipeline.

We are in the midst of a huge teacher shortage. California alone was short 21,500 slots in August. So how about this? Instead of trying to come for TFA how about people create more pipelines to attract great talent? I’d love to see more Black teacher pipelines. How about a pipeline for Latina women? I’m all for it. The profession as a whole is suffering. It’s like the great flood is coming and we are arguing about a glass of water.

Is TFA perfect, of course not. But why don’t we focus on the fact that education for Black kids in this country is garbage? If TFA disappeared tomorrow, poor kids of color would still be suffering in schools AND YOU KNOW IT!

These kids deserve so much better than I got when I was a student. I’m in the fight though, and I’m going to fight for these kids the way I wish folks would’ve fought for me. Let’s put these kids first.


Charles “A-Black-hood-dude-that-proudly-worked-for-TFA-and-most-definitely-isn’t-an-idealist-young-white-person-with-a-trust-fund” Cole, III


Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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