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Narrative vs. Counter-narrative: Teach For America in their own words

What do Teach For America corps members say in private conversation? How can you not love Teach For America after having a conversation with one of their gregarious and articulate supporters? Their rhetoric is convincing— typically tugging on the heartstrings. Have you also noticed that they are also masters of citing data that they have NEVER released or had independently verified by the public? Anyways, let us begin with a personal Facebook message that is typical of what you see in Teach For America’s glossy brochures (and from their lobbyist and embedded staffers on Capitol Hill).

TFA Narrative:

I am defending my experience as a young Chicano who is the product of a broken public education system (DPS)… I am also defending my experience as someone who had the opportunity to be trained by TFA and serve, alongside other peers whom I admire and respect, countless of students in South Texas with similar experiences as mine and we witnessed the success of those efforts within 36 months…

… When you mix veteran teachers (many experienced BUT burned out) with young, vibrant, idealistic, and energized teachers (also with experience), it creates a different working relationship and atmosphere and increases accountability.

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TFA counter-narrative:

Not all TFA alums think that the corps is as lovely as he does. For example, read these experiences previously posted on Cloaking Inequity:

Tell-All from Oakland TFA Teacher: “I didn’t do my research” “Left by Winter Break”

Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout

Teach For America: Feel Good Spin vs. Dose of Reality From A Corps Member

Wow. Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog apparently digs up TFA “talking to itself.” Here are some of my favorite quotes from her new blog post entitled “What Teach for America Says When It Talks to Itself” Apparently straight from the mouths of TFA corps members and alumni. She writes:

As I was researching my “Bill Pays to Help Arne” post, I came across a discussion site, Wall Street Oasis, where those hoping to Make It Big on The Street are able to connect in order to solve issues related to their career ambitions.

The site has a link for Teach for America (TFA).

The link includes a number of revealing 2008-2013 discussion threads, particularly since many writers assume that they are interacting with fellow TFAers who desire what TFA founder Wendy Kopp promotes: A high-powered, lucrative, “real” career following a brief TFA stint.

Here are a few excerpts from the TFA board apparently written by TFA corp members and alums:

Commitment to Teaching

I’m afraid that I’ll be pigeonholed into school roles for the rest of my career.

Ability

Most of the people going to TFA from my school would never have gotten a banking offer. They are mediocre students at best.

School Reformers

Most people do NOT leave the education field, although they may leave the classroom. TFA’s role is not to make educators. It is to make education reformers.

Business School

Q: I graduated from Northwestern with a mediocre GPA.With a great GMAT, do I stand a chance for HBS / Stanford ? Kellogg?

A: You’ll obviously spin a story about how you want to be a leader in education.

The TFA network

The key to working TFA to your advantage come [sic] primarily through utilizing their network. On TFAnet.org you can search different companies and it will give you the results of all alumni in a particular company (including email). It is then your responsibility to email/network/whatever you need to do to get them to pass either your name along or your resume up.

Commitment

The absurdity of the program is that the TFA kids are paid as well as actual teachers and are less qualified academically and then get to quit after 2 years and never look back.

Summer Institute

I’m in the midst of my summer training for TFA now, and the vast majority of my co-workers don’t REALLY care about these kids. It is a stepping stone, and a guaranteed job, by and large. I also have developed a tremendous amount of animosity towards the organization as a result of what I’ve seen in these past few weeks. This organization is NOT in it for the kids… it’s in it for the “Corps Members” and their experiences.

They have us teaching summer school after only have ONE WEEK of formal training. These kids are getting REAL grades in subjects that many of the teachers have no prior knowledge of. I for one typically learn the subject I’m going to teach the night before the lesson plan is due. It’s disgusting that these kids are used as our guinea pigs. Even the way their success is measured is a damn scam.

They are given the final exam on the first day and given 30 minutes to complete it. For the remainder of summer school, we are then forced to teach our objectives to this specific test, and it is given again on the last day of classes.They are given 2 hours at this point to complete it after having been taught essentially identical questions the entire summer. The questions we give on the final is the EXACT SAME as the ones given on that 1st day too. It’s real easy to say that “little __________ made a 48 point gain in his subject” when you have those particular conditions. The shit is sickening.

I joined to try and do some genuine good, but this organization is no different than many of the private for-profit organizations. At least they’re honest with their intentions. I would leave after seeing this, but there’s too much of a social stigma attached for my professional ambitions to do it. smh.

Change the world?

I support ANYTHING that challenges the status quo. That includes shutting down all public schools. That includes TFA, school vouchers, merit pay for teachers, banning teachers unions, religious schools, etc.

Mercedes Schneider’s closing thoughts:

TFA works hard to promote the image of the “best and brightest” as successfully and altruistically “giving back” by offering their indispensable “talent” to rescue students from achievement gaps that are clearly the fault of those who attended “non-target” institutions in order to earn degrees in what TFA considers a non-profession for its lack of “results.”

However, based upon the above discussion threads, some more astute TFAers realize that Kopp’s promotions are little more than selfish, strategically-endorsed, well-funded fiction.

As to those disillusioned-yet-enlightened former TFAers: May their numbers grow.

In conclusion, I heard recently that corps members either complete their (typically short) TFA stay with “hubris” or “humility.” Keep this in mind the next time you have a conversation with a TFAer. You can ask yourself privately… “hubris” or “humility.”

P.S. “Don’t shoot the messenger” Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2

P.S.S. To the young Chicano TFA corp member read this: Ed Policy Unchained: Django, House Negros, and School Reformers

YOU CAN HELP: Do you have documents or information about TFA? Are you a TFA teacher that wants to share your experience in a blog. It’s okay if it doesn’t read like TFA’s slick promotion materials. Send to jvh@austin.utexas.edu

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on TFA go here.

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

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

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About Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig (670 Articles)
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

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