Will San Francisco Cancel TFA?: @TeachForAmerica Alum letter to Board details threats, depression, and debt
Dear Parents, Educators and Allies,
I am writing to inform you about a very important decision being made by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) school board that will impact Everett Middle School. On April 14, 2015 the SFUSD school board made a motion to terminate the school district contract with Teach for America and a final decision will be made soon.
Administrators at Everett have failed to inform parents and the public about the detrimental activities of Teach for America at Everett and SFUSD. Teach for America (TFA) is a large scale corporate non-profit (www.teachforamerica.org). TFA is national non-traditional teacher training program that claims to support education equity. They offer college students with a bachelor’s degree money to pay off loans, a five week training program and a full time teaching intern position for two years at a public school where they are given permission to teach a class room, without attaining a credential or doing a student teaching internship. After two years the TFA teaching interns have the option to pursue a teaching credential or quit teaching and pursue a separate career. The individual teaching interns and credentialed TFA alumni put their hearts and hard labor into their work as educators with good intentions, the teachers are not the problem. It is the TFA leadership, management methods, policy agenda, and corporate funders such as Walmart that must be scrutinized because of the damage they can do potentially to SFUSD. TFA has a track record nationally of scapegoating teachers, supporting high stakes testing, attacking teachers unions, and privatizing public schools by dismantling them into corporate charter schools. TFA is funded by corporations like Walmart and Monsanto, consequently TFA supports running schools like a business (https://www.teachforamerica.org/sites/default/files/150217_annualletter_financialsfinal.pdf).
Public Schools are not private for profit businesses, they are publicly owned institutions with an essential mission to provide high quality education to the public and insure a strong democracy. We must support and defend high quality public education. There is a national movement of parents, educators, scholars, public officials and labor leaders opposing TFA and defending public education. a. (A Force for Real Education Reform Emerges. October 9th, 2013. By Jeff Bryant, Education Opportunity Network. http://www.otlcampaign.org/node/3274) b. (http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/)
There is a growing list of serious concerns among teachers, parents, administrators, public officials and community members regarding the activities of TFA at Everett and other SFUSD schools.
- Sending novice teachers to teach classrooms of high need students such as low performing students of color, low income students, students with IEPs, English language learners and high risk students. Allowing teaching interns to train on the job managing a classroom instead of apprenticing under a credentialed teacher lowers the quality of education for high need students and sets up TFA teaching interns as well as students to fail.
- TFA is practicing unconventional education reform policy experiments on students with out informing parents or public officials.
- Everett administrators have a high rate of suspensions and police contact with high risk students and is not efficiently utilizing its resources to implement racially equitable restorative practices.
- Enlgish Langauge Learners are being assigned TFA intern teachers or teachers with minimal experience teaching ELL while competent veteran bilingual teachers are assigned to teach mainstream students and are pressured to resign.
- When students fail or misbehave due to inexperienced staff’s learning curve, students receive the consequence of bad grades or discipline. Administrators are not held accountable for making bad decisions.
- Everett has a high rate of turn over for TFA interns and long term TFA alumni with teaching credentials.
- Everett is the only school in SFUSD with a high percentage of teaching interns and credentialed TFA alumni. Everett is the only school in SFUSD with three TFA administrators who are all novice administrators.
- Parents are not being fully informed that their children have TFA teaching interns or that Everett is practicing TFA policy experiments on their students.
- Parents voice is not respected or heard by Everett administrators.
- Parents feel that there is a lack of cultural competence from how the administration manages staff to meet the needs of students of color, ELD parents and parents of high performing students.
- High need students, ELL students and high performing students are in mixed classrooms with novice teachers. This is a difficult task and is a job for highly experienced credentialed treacher,
- High quality teachers and support staff are resigning at a high rate creating instability for students. This includes credentialed TFA alumni, TFA interns, traditionally credentialed teachers and paraprofessional support staff .
- TFA administrators are pressuring high quality, veteran, traditionally credentialed teachers to resign and using unfair labor practices that are anti-union. Teachers are targeted with intimidation if they engage in union activities or assert their voice.
- Everett teachers feel like they do not have a voice and that their expertise is not validated or utilized to maximize academic efficiency. Teachers and support staff feel that TFA staff with less experience in SFUSD are given preferential treatment.
- Everett administrators have had conflicts with community organizations and do not respect historical community expertise.
Take Action! Please help terminate TFA’s contract with SFUSD. Our schools need the highest quality teachers available and educators deserve support and respect to provide the most effective education possible.
Then a former TFA corp member contacted me on Facebook just hours after I received Jose’s letter. Since she was a Bay Area teacher, I asked her to write a letter to the San Francisco board. She has chosen to be anonymous because she fears reprisal from Teach For America.
Dear San Francisco’s Board of Education,
I was a member of the 2013 Bay Area TFA Corps. I have always had a passion to improve our school system. Prior to teaching in June 2013, friends and family described me as overly optimistic, a dreamer, healthy, always happy and laughing, and overflowing with joy. In just six months of teaching as a TFA corps member, the people closest to me expressed deep concern about my emotional state, describing me as irritable, severely underweight (92lbs), easily agitated, overly anxious, cynical, negative, and depressed. It was my family who gave me the courage to finally put my health and safety before the TFA-LMU program.
I was placed as a 2nd-5th grade Special Education Resource Specialist Teacher. As part of the TFA program, we were required to take classes through their partnered university — Loyola Marymount (LMU). However, the classes were completely irrelevant and waste of time. My peers and I were required to take 3 classes back to back through an extension program once a week for a total of 3-4 hours. Majority of the time the classes were used for us to complain how we were not learning anything that was feasible in our classes, and how overwhelmed we were. We wished that we were taught on what we were supposed to be doing in the classroom.
On the first day of school, I had no idea what to do or what to teach, plus what duties the Special Education Resource Specialist has. I would study the material and read tips online. As a first year teacher in desperate need of support and training, LMU did nothing to provide me with these things. Furthermore, my LMU supervisor, instructors, and TFA overseers provided me with a disgraceful amount of support. My frustration regarding the lack of application the courses had to my practice grew as nothing was ever being done.
Prior to those courses, we were required to attend summer training, which proved to be even less helpful than the fall courses. Five weeks of unpaid training NOT in Special Education, NOT as a Resource Specialist, NOT as an Elementary General Education, but rather in a completely different subject and grade level — as an English Teacher for 8th Graders. It just doesn’t make sense. I received absolutely no training for becoming a Resource Specialist to Elementary students, which was only a month away from school starting. Also, we were required to teach for 40 minutes 4x a week to only 5-9 students with 3 other corp member teachers for LAUSD as our experience internship hours. Furthermore, no mention of IEPs came about until late August at Foundations Training, which is a travesty. The LMU classes during TFA summer institute were incredibly unorganized and seemed to simply be “going through the motions” to check off a box saying the course was completed for California legal purposes rather than truly checking to see if we understood any of the material. Furthermore, to think that five weeks of training over the summer is sufficient preparation for working in the most demanding districts is absurd. Not to mention the training had nothing to do with the placed position as a Special Education Resource Specialist. Furthermore, we were told that the degree was a M.Ed with a specialization in Mild to Moderate Special Education, not a M.A. in Special Education. We only found out in the middle of the fall semester that the degree was a Masters in Art, not a M.Ed. We were also lied by TFA that we would receive a credential after our first year. LMU told us towards the end of the fall semester that this wasn’t true. Better yet, the 2013-2014 courses did not comply with CTC requirements.
Before the summer session of training, I was accepted into TFA under the false pretense that the Master’s Degree was a M.Ed and would be heavily compensated financially. This was not the case. Members like myself who joined last year had no frame of reference for what the expenses would actually look like. We were simply told the Credential program was “heavily compensated” and “incredibly sufficient” to support us in the class. Furthermore, when into the first semester, myself and others started to slowly go into debt, which was unbelievable. One should never go into debt when fully employed.
I did everything possible to never go into debt. I have been working since I was 14 years old to save for college. I attended undergrad and postgrad and graduated debt-free because of my savings. Right after receiving my Masters, I joined TFA to work and support education within the bay. I provided 120 working hours per a week for the TFA-LMU collaboration, along with a negative amount of money per a month. And then to be asked to give more… for what? As a citizen of this country, I worked very hard to save throughout my life, and tried to give back to my community through TFA. However, the program failed me, coworkers, schools, and students.
Others and myself were completely deceived by the TFA-LMU collaboration, and now feel very threatened about the fines that we are all expected to pay off while we are draining our savings (going into debt when fully employed) and then dealing with anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said before, I entered teaching as the most optimistic, happy person you could possibly know. I am now trying to get myself out of an incredibly unfair place that is a direct result of the outrageous expectations put on me to teach in:
1. The on-going debt due to the credential program monthly fees
2. Taking courses that did not help with my job
3. No training in emotional care for myself and students
4. No emotional support from the TFA-LMU community
5. No training as a RSP Teacher in Elementary schools during the summer
To think that we are now asked to pay thousands of dollars for such a negative experience of nonstop pressure, stress, trauma, and chaos is overwhelming. Many of us are dealing/dealt with deep rooted anxiety and depression as serving as a TFA corp member and the ‘TFA& LMU Owe’ is simply adding more fuel to the fire. As for myself, in return, I was unemployed and receiving Medi-cal and even qualified for Food Stamps.
I also want to note, we have been threaten by a higher debt if we leave the program. If we walk away, we are then required to sign a privacy agreement with TFA. We are scared of TFA and LMU’s legal team. This is why this particular situation is not common to find in the press; however, it is common amongst all of TFA Bay Area Corps Members 2013 who were within the field of Special Education. Many of my fellow peers feel chained, or have dropped out deal with their health while trying to recover and paying off their enormous debt. Those who have remained are still trying to figure out how to do their job and deal with labor abuse.
I pray you take this into consideration to stop TFA from entering our schools, especially within Special Education. If not for my fellow corps members, do it for the disservice students. They do not deserve this. They are our future and we should always want the best for them. And lastly, it was the students that brought others and myself to join TFA. We wanted to make a difference; however, I fear we have caused them inadequate teaching and support. It’s distasteful and shameful what the TFA-LMU partnership is doing by taking advantage of a broken school system and making a profit from it, regardless of their corp members well-being, and children who are hurt in the process.
- Dr. Emily M. Murase, President. email: EmilyMurase@sfusd.edu
- Mr. Matt Haney, Vice-President. email: MattHaney@sfusd.edu
- Ms. Sandra Lee Fewer, Commissioner. email: SandraFewer@sfusd.edu
- Ms. Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell, Commissioner. email: Hydra.Mendoza@sfusd.edu
- Ms. Rachel Norton, Commissioner. email: RachelNorton@sfusd.edu
- Mr. Shamann Walton, Commissioner. email: ShamannWalton@sfusd.edu
- Ms. Jill Wynns, Commissioner. email: JillWynns@sfusd.edu
- Guadalupe Guerrero, Deputy Superintendent. email: GuerreroG@sfusd.edu
- Richard Carranza, Superintendent. email: RichardCarranza@sfusd.edu
If you decide to email, please keep it professional and informative.
See also two NEPC policy briefs examining all of the peer review research on the organization Teach For America: A review of the evidence and Teach For America: A Return to the Evidence (The Sequel)
For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America click here.
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.
Please blame the media who continue to write only puff pieces for/about TFA for any typos.
Click here for Vitae.