From the Mailbag: Teach For America Defector Speaks

There is a growing crescendo in support and opposition of Teach For America from its alumni base. For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America go here. Also see my piece in the New York Times on Teach For America here.

Howard Blume from the LA Times recently wrote two pieces about TFA. The first and the second.

In the first, it was announced that the Walton Foundation was going to provide funding to hire 700 more rookie TFA teachers to put in front of poor and minority (although this word is now a misnomer in California, Texas, New Mexico etc.) kids in LA.

In the second he relates:

…Some former participants and academics, among others, have recently accused the Peace Corps-like organization of taking sides in the education policy wars. They criticize the nonprofit for aligning too closely with its largest private donors and high-profile alumni who have gone into politics. They say the group has diverged too far from a core mission: addressing a teacher shortage with top college grads primed to inject energy and success into low-income, urban campuses.

Tongue-in-cheek education blogger Russo sardonically (I believe) said this. Russo, in case you care what a extensive review of peer-reviewed research says on TFA go here. Of note, we will release a new NEPC TFA brief in the next few months.

I have also written extensively here on Cloaking Inequity about the budding TFA Civil War.

This morning I recieved this comment to a prior post LA and the Recovery School District approach (SB1718): A P.T. Barnum Circus. (Its a good read about the situation in NOLA.) In this morning’s comment, a TFA defector speaks out about his/her intentions and opinions about TFA.  I have bumped the comment to this post. WIthout further ado.

TFA assigned me to the Baton Rouge Recovery School District where I unwittingly found myself in a circus. I quit this year and I do not regret the decision for a second. My main concerns were rampant administrative careerism, suspect parenting, worthless teacher evaluations, and empty TFA rhetoric.

Principals and assistant principals routinely keep violent and disruptive children in school because they want to keep their suspension rates low. On paper it looks like they have a school under control, but the reality is much different. Administrators don’t care though. They only want to propel themselves into ever more cushy, higher paying jobs.

Many of the parents aren’t much better. I can’t blame them however. Many of the parents graduated from the same schools their children attend. They live in the same terrible neighborhoods fostering morality and values not conducive to academic success. Some parents teach their children that it’s ok to fight in school. They tell them it’s ok to disrespect and disregard the teacher. Calling one of those parents about a child’s behavior is useless. In many cases, the parents are just as ignorant and ill-mannered as their children. In fact, some of the parents want their children to act out. That unscrupulous few want government checks for medication they only give the kids at night when they are with the parents (if they actually buy the medication at all). Trust me, a lot of those parents know their children are rotten. They don’t know what to do with them, so they keep them medicated and/or in front of the television. It only takes about five unruly children to destroy the learning environment. You can bet your life there are at least five in every TFA classroom.

The worst aspect of it though is the push toward teacher accountability. Principals fire teachers year after year to give the appearance they are doing something. Teachers are unreasonably held accountable for student behavior and test scores, as if a teacher can force a student to pay attention, do their class work, do their homework and study. That reality doesn’t matter. Principals just issue more and more edicts for students to remain “engaged.” To do this, principals and learning coaches suggest nothing more than a stage show. New observation protocols require a certain teacher performance rather than actual learning. How can a teacher be “effective” when the majority of the students fail? Just “teach” the way they want you to. You will be deemed “effective.”

TFA plays right along. They constantly tell stories about miracle working teachers. The rub is you never actually meet those miracle workers or see any evidence of their success. It’s just one unverifiable anecdote after the next. YOU are the problem if you can’t do the same.

I did not believe those lies for one second, so I left. The careerism, suspect parenting, punitive “teacher accountability” protocols, and empty rhetoric led me to get out. I could no longer delay law school attendance to be a part of what is essentially a charade. Do yourself a favor and avoid Teach for America.

Signed, Glad to be Gone

So what do you think about this aside?

Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below and/or reblog to share this discussion with others.

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button in the upper left hand corner of this page.

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

Click here for Vitae.


  • Pingback: Six Questions for Teach for America | ΕΝΙΑΙΟ ΜΕΤΩΠΟ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑΣ

  • Pingback: Six Questions for Teach for America | Yinzercation

  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Yes. TFA is linked in here too! This info, I believe, helps explain ALL of the connections being talked about on this Blog.
    Yes, as said above: “The corporate cycle that keeps screwing over the kids.”


  • I spent 3 years in Baton Rouge teaching in charter schools here and I have to agree with most of the comments that the author made. I do have to make one objection though. I taught in one of the toughest areas in Baton Rouge and then left to teach self contained special education (which TFA did not train me for) in a school that didn’t care that they did not have a legal ratio of teachers to special education students. I’ve been in terrible situations with kids who behaved beyond terribly and parents who,on the surface, seemed not to care. Here is my objection- the kids are not rotten. Parents were disengaged and of course their kids learned that they didn’t need to take school seriously. The high rate of turnover destroyed that community and TFA’S lack of sincere community engagement sets up a trap for every wide eyed new recruit. Why should they respect the corps members of an organization that puts under trained, naive graduates in front of their children? They often don’t have the tools to fight this corporate education monster, so they disengage. I have dealt with some pretty disengaged and angry parents and children who use violence to express themselves. They are not rotten. They are tired of the corporate cycle that keeps screwing over their kids.


  • Two things occur to me about this post. The first is that this teacher was in no way prepared or trained for his experience. Having come off of working for the past 4 years for a large university training young women and men to become teachers, I can tell you they go through a lot more training than what is offered to TFA teachers. Sure, teacher training has a long way to go, and school systems need to step up to the plate with stipended mentors for for new teachers, but TFA is really about sink or swim.

    I somewhat disagree with Josef’s comment about teachers are either cut out for it or not. I have seen some folks that have started out as not very good teachers, but learned to be very good teachers. There is a skill set involved in teaching well and even demonstrating caring, although primarily a disposition, has a skill set that can be developed (C’mon…we’re supposed to be demonstrating growth mindset with our kids, we should be doing it with our teachers as well) But because TFA is a cheap way out to staff schools that are challenged to find (and/or pay) qualified teachers, the skill set is often overlooked when they’re hired and rarely further developed in any formalized way.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that I agree that as long as our country continues down this social divide schools in poorer districts will continue to perpetuate classism, racism and huge inequities in education. Bourdieu was not far off the mark with his theories about social reproduction and developing habitus in people. Not every kid needs a shiny new ipad, but every kid deserves a qualified teacher and the resources to engage them in learning so they can break the cycle of poverty.


  • Jane Cutter Ph.D.

    Well, I don’t have much sympathy for the TFA quitter. I guess he had no idea what he was getting into. I think with such a negative attitude towards the families of poor students it is no surprise he was unable to connect with students. Of course its hard to teach, especially with no training! And its harder to teach kids who are living in extreme poverty–not because they have bad values or have bad parents (believe me, rich parents can be also be problematic) but because being poor makes it harder to learn! We are starting to build a movement against so-called education reform–we need to transform it into a movement against poverty and racism which underlie so much of the poor achievement we see our “less successful” schools. Keep up the good work Dr. Julian!


  • Pingback: From the Mailbag: Teach For America Defector Speaks | Cloaking Inequity ← NPE News Briefs

  • Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Check out this refutation and repudiation of TFA including a recent comment from a recent East Baton Rouge corps member. TFA started out with such promise, now it harvests young idealistic college grads and sacrifices them for their political ambitions and goals. Warn your children about enlisting in what has become a corrupt political engine.


  • It takes experience and expertise to work with challenging students and their challenging parents, and while it’s not likely that even an experienced and well trained professional could get through to a lot of those parents, it’s more likely that they’d listen to someone with more experience and who isn’t a fresh faced rookie who is planning on moving on. You’re either cut out for teaching or you’re not, and the problem with TFA is that it doesn’t acknowledge this. Parents and students both behave better for master teachers, but unfortunately states like Louisiana that offer poor pay, bad working conditions, and no job security with unsupportive administration don’t have those kinds of teachers. I know I wouldn’t want to work in a building with a bunch of TFA teachers. How insulting!!!! Once a school reaches a critical mass of poor teaching practice, a master teacher is handicapped by the culture of failure it engenders. I’ve worked with some pretty difficult kids, and I can just imagine the fun they would have messing with a recent Ivy League grad who only has 5 weeks of training. It would be entertaining to watch. Think about it: Why would you as a student respect an institution that is so moribund it has to be staffed by people who are there to perform a couple of years of community service before they go on to better things? Why should a parent respect some ivy league kid with a savior mentality? Kudos to this poster for bailing out.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s