What would you say to @TeachForAmerica recruiting letter?

Even when Teach For America recruiters are banned from using faculty class time to recruit students— they still try to. This form letter was forwarded to me by a Professor.

Hi Professor,

I am currently a Senior Marketing Student here at the ________ and a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America. I’m contacting you because I hope that I can take 3 minutes to make an announcement during your class some time soon to talk about educational inequity and Teach For America’s mission. Teach For America is working to end educational inequity by recruiting outstanding college graduates, from all majors, to teach for two years in low-income communities. Only one in ten children growing up in poverty will graduate from college. With your help, we can continue increase this awareness amongst ______’s top college graduates so that all children have an even playing field in life, no matter what zip code they are raised in. Please let me know if you have any questions and if/when I can come speak to your class. Thank you, TFA recruiter

teachforamericaMy understanding from other faculty at various institutions is that this letter is a form letter that they receive every year from TFA. Here is how the professor responded:

I was intrigued by your email for a couple of reasons. One is that my class has many students who are already certified teachers and/or are pursuing doctoral studies, so I am not sure how the class would have been targeted as an appropriate audience for recruitment. The other is that I research the ways teachers can address inequity, and can tell you that having a fleeting 2-year commitment with 5-week training is most certainly not the way to address it. Since TFA has been around, we’ve seen poverty increase, not decrease. Aside from the fact that studies have failed to demonstrate that TFA does anything to improve college-going rates among children who grow up in poverty (is there ANY research at all to support what you allude to in your email?), I’m curious to know how a 5-week boot camp prepares TFA corps members to do what you claim.

In my research, I’ve found that one of the most powerful predictors of improving achievement for students who live in poverty is to have teachers who possess “critical knowledge”—the kind of knowledge that takes time to accumulate (people don’t acquire it in 5 weeks) and reflects understanding about how inequity comes to be and persists. TFA represents, in many ways, the counter-narrative to critical knowledge.

Francesca López, PhD @falopeziglesias

Associate Professor

Co-Director, Center for Research in Classrooms

Department of Educational Psychology

College of Education, University of Arizona

billboard_teachingI posted the letter from the Teach For America recruiter privately on my Facebook, and a TFA “dropout” also responded. She said:

Dear XXXX, I’ve been working in the field of education policy for exactly 200 months, five of which were spent in the classroom as a teacher for TFA. As a TFA dropout, I didn’t make it into the statistics of success, but—considering I currently have a PhD in education policy and work closely with state education agencies, districts and schools in the Northwest region of the US— you could say that I’ve devoted my career to the goal of ending educational inequity. And even though I dropped out, I know I made a profound difference in the life of at least one of my students—a student I watched walk across the stage at UCLA two years ago. I work in rural states that could, on the one hand, probably benefit from access to TFA—states like Montana, which have difficulty recruiting teachers to its poorest, most remote areas. But ultimately, I believe that TFA does more harm than good, and it starts with your email. Educational inequity is a topic that needs more than three minutes. And it’s a problem that needs more than the two years of commitment that TFA recruits give. Top college grads aren’t the answer to the problems your email names. What’s more, inequity is a problem that is no match for the simplistic worldviews that TFA actively cultivates. If I had 5 minutes to follow your presentation, I’d say this: teaching in an under-resourced school is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and you may love parts of it, but if you’re an intelligent, thinking person you won’t love most of it because you’ll realize how inadequately prepared you are and you’ll feel like a loser every day. You’ll wonder if you’re running your students lives, and if you really care deeply, you’ll probably have a nervous breakdown during their first year, or find yourself on medication and you’ll very likely have some form of PTSD for a long time afterwards. Once you recover, if you end up caring about education as much as I did, you will find yourself headed to grad school in a couple of years to try to figure out just why things are as messed up as they are. Or, you’ll be fine—you’ll have what you think is a great experience. And you’ll either move on to the job you intended to have, leaving a school devoid of your talent, or you’ll try to make your life make sense by trying to start a charter school, or god forbid, another education technology company. You’ll have started your professional life with a simplistic assumption about the way the world works–specifically, that you, a UofA top college graduate can help level the playing field for children—and it’s quite possible that you will maintain that delusion for many years, possibly a decade or more, leaving a wake of destruction in your path (see Michelle Rhee). You will strive and strive and strive and if you ever wake up—if you ever see that the world is more complex than you were taught by TFA, you’ll probably be a little miserable inside because deep down you’ll know that you wrecked your life for something that isn’t really true. And you might be the exception: But if you are, please figure out where you want to make your home and go there, get a teaching credential, and set up shop as a career teacher. We need people committed to the profession for the long haul. One last note: before you tell me the field needs more powerful change makers, it doesn’t. That’s really the very last thing we need right now. There are more than enough of us up here at the top of the system, continuing to fail at fighting the real fight. And we fail because inequality is not a school problem, it’s a social problem. So please don’t join the ranks of those who continue to say that schools are the solution, that knowledge is power. They aren’t and it isn’t. You’ll be so, so much happier learning that any other way than as a TFA teacher. And if you really care about leveling the playing field, please go mentor, tutor and volunteer with kids after school. Teach them something you love. That stuff works. And I promise it’ll be way, way more fun than the Common Core.

Aurora Wood Moore Twitter: @AuroraMoore

and you maybe thought I was critical of TFA. For all posts on Teach For America click here.

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  • Thank you for this insight.


  • I knew all of one TFA who was any good. (Her partner was probably good too, but she got bounced around and hurt a lot which damaged her potential. She went on to law school on a scholarship Yes, they were a gay couple.) The one I knew best I realized had considerable potential when she realized she needed a degree in Education and went on to work on her masters while still a TFA. Unfortunately they left the poor, rural system in Louisiana and went back up to the Frozen North where they were from.


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