Teach For America Civil War: A sincere tell-all from New York City

A Cloaking Inequity reader made me aware of this sincere tell-all from a former TFA teacher that was recently posted on Carla Ranger’s blog, a Dallas ISD School Board member (we have lots and lots and lots of TFA in Texas— Dallas, Houston, Rio Grande Valley etc.). John Bilby’s thoughts reblogged from Ranger’s blog:

I left the organization because I felt that it does not adequately prepare its people to serve the poorest children in public schools. I also think that TFA is more interested in power, access, and influence in the federal game of education than it is concerned with resolving educational inequity. Its “corps members” are merely a means to this end, providing the organization with a front while it pursues the goals of its donors, namely to remodel public education in this country in order to favor a high-turnover, non-unionized workforce in charters run by hedge-fund managers for tax breaks. I foresee this further stratifying our current system into one in which children with disabilities, children who don’t speak English, and children who do not do well on standardized tests are funneled into substandard schools in a constant state of crisis due to continuous budget cutting.

I still believe, however, in the democratic power of education and the right of the people to vote out those who might infringe upon it. I am beginning a traditional route teacher certification program and I am looking forward to getting back into a city classroom soon.

Clearly, his counter-narrative is not what you hear in the media or from TFA.

Meta question: Who is to blame that John Bilby didn’t “know how to teach” after only five weeks of summer training?… John? The district? TFA? For the past two decades have we been drinking TFA flavored Kool-Aid? See CI’s full thread on TFA here.


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  • Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Great youtube video from a former TFA teacher. His story aligns with the stories I’ve been told or wittnessed with a number of other well-intentioned but ill prepared TFA recruits. His closing remarks on what TFA has become (and influence peddler and scab workforce for the wealthy) is sadly accurate for an organization that started out with laudable goals before being lured away with promises of power and wealth. Watch his video and you will see not just his shattered dreams and illusions, but those of the children he had to face every day in his classroom. The reality is that all too many of our children face unprepared novices in their classrooms due to the machinations of TFA, the New Teacher Project, City Year and the other do-gooder amateur teacher franchises that have sprung up to serve the wealthy and corrupt by underserving our kids and driving off our experienced teachers and close our public schools to install their charter profit centers.


  • Pingback: Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout | Cloaking Inequity

  • As a former Teach For America corps member, I can sympathize with John’s feelings of being ill-prepared to enter a classroom served by TFA. However, unlike John, I reacted to this feeling of inadequacy in a much different way. Instead of quitting, I sought out any and every resource that would make me better. Every day. I asked for help from my TFA mentors, my school mentors, my college professors, and even my former teachers. I don’t believe any current organization can fully prepare a 22-year-old for teaching in a high-need school, but the foundation and principles that Teach For America instilled in me gave me a great foundation to build upon. Is it perfect? No. Does it seek higher aspirations of changing the state of education in America (and more recently, the world)? Absolutely. Teach For America is not for everyone. Instead of creating a “Civil War” about a program one doesn’t personally align with, I can respect those who cite “irreconcilable differences” and find another route to fulfill their passions.


    • Jackie:

      It’s great you tried so hard to redress the faults that your TFA training had left you with. I hope that you were successful, and rapidly, for the sake of the children you insisted on inflicting your “ill-prepared” self on.

      John, on the other hand, did not insist on continuing in a full-time job he was “ill-prepared” for, out of respect for the children entrusted to him. Far from quitting, he enrolled in a program that he felt would better prepare him to do the job.

      Which is the more responsible and honorable course when you find yourself in a job for which you are ill-prepared? Learn on the job, while the kids receive a poorer education than they would if they had a well-trained teacher from Day 1? Or actually become better prepared, and then go back to the job?

      John’s not a quitter. You, on the other hand, are dangerously arrogant.


    • If you belong to a group that’s trying to deprofessionalize the teaching profession so that it can be taken over for profit by opportunists, you can certainly respect those who cite “irreconcilable differences” with those goals (which do seem to be the goals of TFA, even if they’re not yours personally and you’re only being used by the organization). There’s no requirement that they need to respect you back, though. If they value education, it’s unlikely that they will.


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