Critics of Teach For America work hard to magnify the program’s shortcomings and prove TFA teachers are harming struggling school systems.
The superheated anti-TFA campaign looks for – and finds – former core members who will share bad experiences in the hopes of depressing TFA’s annual recruiting of new teachers.
To some extent it works. Probably because another story is rarely told.
There are tens of thousands of TFA alumni. Many that go through the program and end up staying in the classroom. Others move on to education related careers. And some complete their assignment and then pursue other interests.
You won’t hear much from many of them, but you should.
The critics that are noisy and productive. You have to wonder where the positive alums hide themselves. You know, those that have contributed to student learning for our country’s most marginalized kids.
Dallas Rico is one of those teachers. He isn’t allowing his service to be erased by the haters.
In a recent article he addressed a few of the most annoying TFA-bashing claims.
On TFA’s two-year commitment being too short, he says:
First, can we please stop bringing up the 2-year commitment? That’s usually the first issue anti-TFA folks have. Naturally, a number of alums do move on to other fields such as Law and Medicine. In those two years, they realize teaching isn’t for them and go to a career that they were more passionate about. Good for them. Better than having comfortable, detached teachers stay in the classroom because they don’t know what else to do with their lives.
Nonetheless, though critics love to focus on those who leave the classroom, that’s not the whole story. The fact of the matter is over 60% of alums stay beyond the agreed upon two years. Let’s keep in mind that the vast majority of TFAers weren’t originally planning on becoming educators after college. I sure wasn’t. Now, I’m eight years in and still going strong. The 2-year agreement is an enticing trial of the profession, but many of us end of staying in the field long after that.
On TFA providing “temps” to teach in troubled schools:
TFA is not a teacher employment agency. It was never meant to be. It’s a movement. Better yet, it’s a revolution. In warfare, you need individuals at various levels. Soldiers, generals, commanders are all important to the movement. Likewise, effective teachers, principals, district leaders and chancellors are essential to creating real change in Education. Several alums go on to become school leaders or assume other roles in K-12 education or education non-profits. The 25th Anniversary Summit was a testament to that fact. It was wonderful to be surrounded by thousands of alums in the conference that were still serving our students.
On TFA’s training institute being too short to truly prepare teachers:
Let’s get something else straight: TFA’s also not in the business of training teachers. The fives weeks of training Corps Members receive the summer before they begin teaching is admittedly inadequate. I did not feel prepared the first day I walked into my Spanish classroom.
TFA could hold Corps Members’ hands for years before letting them leave the nest but they will never truly get good at teaching until they’re in front of their own students. Many first-year teachers coming out of traditional training programs have also proven ill-prepared for the job. Considering how effective many TFA Corps Members and alums turn out, it appears teaching is just one of those gigs you learn by doing.
And, on keeping our focus on the things that matter most, he says:
Ultimately. it’s about the kids. TFA is a non-profit committed to improving the quality of education in America. Like any entity run by human beings, they make mistakes and gets some things wrong. But it also gets a lot right. If you’re going to criticize TFA for what it gets wrong, be fair and also recognize what they do well. TFA hears you. People often criticize them as if they’re uniquely responsible for solving the problems in Education. The truth is the organization is only part of the solution. We actually do a disservice to our students when educators clash over how to best serve them. Instead, we should put aside our differences and focus on how we can combine our efforts and help bridge the achievement gap. Let’s continue to challenge TFA, but do it for the sake of making her better. This 25-year old hasn’t yet reached her full potential. She’s just getting started.