From September 2008- June 2012 I mentored TFA corps members for Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. As a result of my direct work with them in their schools and some basic research, it is clear to me that what the public is told does not match what goes on behind the TFA scenes.
This just in from Bloomberg: Most Teach For America Instructors Plan to Flee Teaching:
More than 87 percent of TFA teachers say they don’t plan on remaining teachers throughout their careers, compared with 26.3 percent of non-TFA teachers working in the same subjects, grades, and schools, according to an analysis released last week by Mathematica Policy Research (PDF).
Twelve percent leave after their first year in the classroom.
A full 25 percent of them said they would quit teaching after the current school year, compared with only 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers. And of those who plan to quit, 42.9 percent of TFA teachers anticipated leaving education altogether, compared with 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers. TFA doesn’t provide the number of TFA recruits who don’t complete the two-year commitment, or who don’t stay in teaching. I wonder why.
TFA has stressed that the organization has more than 37,000 alumni of which 900 are now school heads, and 250 are leaders of district and charter school systems. That is their real GOAL: to create this corps of policy makers
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO BE A CORP MEMBER?
– Corps members are usually successful and energetic students. Unfortunately many are also naïve. Often followers, they are perfect fodder for TFA leaders.
– Regardless of what TFA says, their 5-week boot camp training period and process is hell and does not come close to preparing corps members for what they are to face.
– They are taught by TFA to follow. Stay in line. Be formulaic. They are taught not to be like the great teachers they remember: wise, creative, independent, and spontaneous. Most of all, they are trained by TFA to be a corps member above all and not a part of a school or district.
– Most TFA corps members do not have command of the 4 c’s: Culture of schools, Culture of community, Culture of curriculum, and Culture of classroom management. Most also lack the practical wisdom or street smarts to have a good chance of success in the schools where they are placed.
– They must attend “mandatory” TFA meetings at “headquarters” (even if that time is spent on street corners surveying passers by). They travel hours out of their way to go to local TFA “headquarters” for meetings or get the already prepared materials to copy and plug into the prescribed curriculum.
– TFA uses former corps members with only 2 years experience to go into corps members’ schools to provide what they call support, reinforce the TFA gospel, and tell corps members they must rely on TFA prepared materials to be successful.
– The recurring theme recanted to me over and over by almost all of my corps member mentees is that TFA is not only of little help, it creates even more stress on them than they already incur as untrained novices working under the most difficult of conditions.
– Because of all the time consuming TFA rituals, they can’t devote enough time to good lesson planning, so they are forced to use TFA provided worksheets: “teacher-proof, formulaic, guided worksheet/lesson plans that usually don’t work. The end result is reinforcing their fears of trying other things that actually work.
– From the mouths of corps members:
- “TFA does not teach us to work smarter.”
- “TFA tells us fairy tales about our superiority.”
- “TFA does not teach us to organize time and workload.
- “TFA does not teach questioning technique, or many of the most important tools we need to succeed.”
- “TFA boot camp institute simply does not prepare us.”
– Stuck in quicksand up to their nostrils, most corps members find it difficult to take advice from an outside mentor even when they know the advice will save them. Many corps members are afraid to use it because they will be accused of not following TFA rules and threatened with losing their stipends or worse.
– They become more frustrated and filled with self-doubt, remorse. Their goal of helping poor struggling kids during their two-year “community service” turns into the goal of getting out alive after their “two-year sentence” is up.
– All of this is on top of what any new teacher in schools in high poverty areas must face. There are thousands of TFA corps members who have a different story to tell than what tufa is passing off as the truth.
MYTHS VS REALITY:
MYTH: TFA produces educators:
REALITY: TFA is in the business of producing policy makers to support its and its financial backers goals.
TFA claims 67% “stay in education”:
- @ 20% actually teaching in public schools after their two years are completed.
- The rest work for:
- District or school leaders
- Policy groups like educators 4 excellence, or students first
- District or charter management organization administrators.
- TFA puts them in positions of power. LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity) is a TFA launched nonprofit organization to train and support TFA alumni to pursue public leadership. It connects them them to high impact opportunities in politics, policy, lobbying, and elected office.
MYTH: Corps members increase academic achievement.
REALITY: In studies touted by TFA, the students of corps members remained below their national peers and made only marginal gains.”
MYTH: TFA is a poor not for profit struggling to maintain its budget to support public education:
REALITY: TFA is about money and power.
- Its assets exceed $350m
- It charges districts from $4,000 -$10,000 per corps member provided
- It received $50m from The Department of Education
- It is funded by the Gates, Broad, Walton… and dozens of similar foundations
- TFA can afford a massive public relations campaign that includes films, concerts, and directly lobbying the federal government.
MYTH: TFA supports experienced teachers and only contracts to fill otherwise unfillable positions:
REALITY: Districts around the country contract with TFA to replace experienced teachers. TFA’s current labor policies have turned it into a source of “scab labor”…usually in right to work /non-union states.
- They want to have a “temporary” corps of unqualified teachers who will last no longer than five years. They hire TFA corps members.
- They want to make more teachers quit prior to vesting in pensions to reduce long-term pension costs. They hire TFA corps members.
- They want to cut salary costs by decreasing the number of veteran teachers and replacing them with new teachers who last 2-5 years. They hire TFA corps members.
- Detroit: brought in 200 TFA corps members after nearly a score of Detroit public schools were closed and hundreds of veteran teachers were let go. TFA wants to start all TFA schools to replace those schools with charters led by former corps members.
- Dallas: brought in nearly 100 new TFA corps members, even though the district had laid off 350 teachers in the 2008-09 school year.
- Washington DC: former TFA corps member and schools chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off 229 teachers, but only six of the 170 TFA corps members in the system
- Chicago: an internal TFA document shows plans for a five-year charter growth plan forecasts a dramatic expansion of 52 privately run charters led by former TFA corps members to serve more than 30,000 students in the city.
- Kansas City: fired about 200 experienced teachers last year to make room for new TFA recruits. The superintendent, who made this decision, went on to “lead” Detroit’s school system.
MYTH: TFA provides support to its corps members:
REALITY: TFA provides hype, then stress, pain and hurt.
- Few corps members quit, now up to about 12%, but more want to.
John Bilby is a hero. He is a former corps member and mentee of mine in the Bronx who quit TFA in his first year because he knew it was the right thing to do. He went back to graduate school to get properly credentialed but unfortunately then had to do time as a national guardsman in Afghanistan. It will be fitting to end with his words:
- I went into TFA with a realistic perspective on the difficulties ahead. I did not expect the kind of managerial incoherence and lack of structure that has become a hallmark of TFA placements.
- My experiences have led me to disagree with TFA’s model of placing inexperienced and idealistic teachers (most of whom come from entirely different worlds than their students) in the classrooms of these institutions, many of which have been dysfunctional for a generation or longer, and expecting them to be successful.
- The Institute was a highly structured psychological booster that provided very little in the way of training or preparation. Given my post-Institute experiences, it no longer makes any sense to me.
- I was in a school with no books, no curriculum, and a set of administrators whose schizophrenic responses to issues of communication and discipline have reflected leadership at its worst. I have known poor leaders, but never have I seen such shameful and disgraceful leadership as at this school.
- The Principal bullies and intimidates the children. One day he walked into my classroom with two armed police officers, and pulled out two 6th grade girls who were standing up and looking out the window at a fracas in the schoolyard. The officers spoke in loud intimidating tones to the two girls, asking them if they needed classes in how to respect adults. Two police officers interrogating children of color in such a way while the principal (also of color) looked on shocked and offended me. It also reflected the kind of disturbing incoherence that has marked the school’s disciplinary response. After doing virtually nothing besides yelling at children for six months they went to the nuclear option, implying that violence will be used.
- New teachers are expected to arrive early at the principal’s forty-five-minute long ‘New Teacher Support Group’ on Thursday mornings, which one day consisted of him telling us to come up with lists of items to ask for on ‘Donors Choose.’
- Prep time is taken away for other unhelpful reasons and meetings. We need our prep time and such a waste of our time is disrespectful to us, and surely only fulfills some statistical need for PD [Professional Development].
- Six out of seven first and second year teachers were given unsatisfactory ratings on their formal observations, a pattern which, when paired with other administrative behaviors toward teachers, suggests that the administrators understand that the school is a sinking ship and are gaming a plan to place the blame squarely upon the teachers, so that they may fly away and alight upon another six-figure salary somewhere else.
- I have spent thousands of my own dollars making photocopies and buying supplies and rewarding good behavior.
- I begged, borrowed, and asked for my own literature textbooks from friends and family members to supplement my own curriculum. I held my own detention before the advent of the school’s After School Academy in an attempt to assert my authority.
- I sent students to the Dean and Grade Team Leaders, only to become more confused and inhibited by their responses.
- I averaged three to four phone calls to parents a night.
- The best support was what I received from my Fordham mentor, who actually gave me the substance of teaching and helped me understand the dynamics in my classroom and my work with children.
- I have given my all, and I am angry, disillusioned, and unfulfilled. I have spent hours preparing and planning, only to have things washed away by the dysfunctional and undisciplined nature of this school.
- If I stay here, I will be a piece of the systemic dysfunction that plagues this school. All children deserve to go to school in professional, supportive environments that provide the structures necessary for children and adults to thrive—and teachers who stay because of their satisfaction with what they do and who they are.
- TFA has a moral obligation to not place teachers in schools as poorly run like this one; if not for the good of these children, then for the good of future generations who would benefit from teachers who are far better prepared to teach than those from TFA.