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Rebecca’s letter to new @TeachForAmerica recruits

I received this open letter unsolicited from a Teach For America alum. She was assigned to teach special education in California in 2013. After her letter, I have also included a clip at the end from the Network for Public Education’s new series Truth For America.

Dear SPED TFA Corps Members 2015,

Congratulations! You’ve survived TFA Summer Institute. Those broken down moments, sleepless nights, dealing with exhaustion, anxiety moments are finally over. No more lesson planning for another month or so. I know you may be anxious to start, especially to receive the class list.

Yet, I suspect there is a part of you that also feels like something just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps, its because you never really taught a class more than 10 students on your own without any supervision. Or maybe, it could be knowing that the summer session students did not have an IEP. Or maybe, you hear the term “IEP”, which has you a bit confused and lost. Take it from me, I have been in your shoes. I had no real idea the weight and the depth of what an IEP was. I knew it was a legal document that states required services that the school district must provide; however, I had no idea what were the IEP goals and or track/update the IEP goals. But don’t worry that’s not as big of an issue as everything else.

The first day of school will leave you worried and feeling like you have become a chicken with its head cut off just running around in circles of what do I do! You may think this feeling will disappear over time with the “mandatory masters” degree program’s classes, but it won’t. You will feel like you are drowning alone and cannot trust anyone. The anxiety and depression kicks in and you feel like you no longer know who you are and what you are.

Yes, this happens to pretty much all of us. Many of us went on medications to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD while working for TFA.

We were also told at this time, if we were ever to leave in the middle of two years, we would owe money to TFA and or their partnering university. It’s called bonded labor/debt labor. Victims (TFA Corps Members) become “bonded” when their labor, the labor they themselves hired and the tangible goods they bought are demanded as a means of repayment for a loan or service in which its terms and conditions have not been defined or in which the value of the victims’ services is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt. Generally, the value of their work is greater than the original sum of money “borrowed.”

teachforamericaIf you complain about the classes or TFA not prepping you enough for your job placement, they will blame you for failing. If you mention that you want to leave — they will threaten you with financial debt (bonded labor or debt labor) or claim you do not care about your “kids” (they hardly will use the term students). You will feel like they are mentally and emotionally abusing you because they are. This is the turning moment when you decide to push down your thoughts or try to find a way out. This abusive and cultish behaviour may have been seen while you attended summer institute, if not, you will see it when you attend those mandatory Saturday trainings. Oh yea, those trainings rarely train you in SPED.

In sum, the SPED program with TFA just does not prepare you for your placement.

These kids deserve someone who is fully trained. You will deal with students who have been stigmatized by having a learning disability label, emotionally/physically/sexually abused, and those with PTSD. You are not prepared for this at all.

Perhaps the reason you are doing TFA is because you want to put it on your resume for great career prospects, and or applying to grad school. Please don’t move forward, you will be the first one to lose yourself. If you are passionate about changing the education system —  I will tell you that you will not be the next superman for your students. Coming and then leaving within 2 years will not help the cause of fixing a broken school system.

TFA is just a bandage, nothing more. You are one of their cheap laborers that allow TFA to collect millions of dollars from inner-city or impoverished school districts, foundations and our government. They are essentially a big business with well-compensated leaders and administrative structure that does not pay taxes since they are a “non-profit.” Don’t fall for their marketing disguise of a non-profit that puts their employees and kids first, perhaps when they started, but not anymore.

Please take this moment before it’s too late to put your well-being first and leave now. Or leave as a way to be part of the movement for TFA to change their trainings for SPED placement.

Also, if you are a parent of a corps member, please share this. No job should ever put loved ones’ and others’ children well-being in harm, especially for a giant organization that takes advantage of the voiceless.

At the end of the day, would you ever want your child(ren) taught by an untrained teacher? Especially, if the child was in Special Ed? No.

Sincerely,

Rebecca, a 2013 SPED TFA Corp Member

See also Voices for Education recent podcast on Teach For America featuring two TFA alums and Dr. Barb Veltri here.

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.

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

Click here for Vitae.

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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.

11 Comments on Rebecca’s letter to new @TeachForAmerica recruits

  1. S Miller-Verde // August 4, 2015 at 7:40 pm // Reply

    Bonded labor? Debt labor? You’re mental… If you quit, you have broken your contract with TFA and with your employer, left a classroom of kids with no teacher, and left your partner university with an outstanding obligation for any financial aid or assistance they provided you.

    Shame on you for quitting, not having the ganas to stick it out, and not having the decency to acknowledge your shortcomings. Speaking as a veteran teacher, I’m glad you’ve left the field. We are already under attack and weaklings like you do nothing to help us.

    Like

    • Did you really have to resort to cyber bullying?

      Like

      • Thank you for this letter. Until now I have not heard anyone speak up and address the lack of training TFA provides to its corps members in special education assignments. During institute the only training I was given was one 30 minute session on how to work WITH an inclusion teacher, nothing about what to do if you ARE the inclusion teacher. I was asking so many questions about IEPs and sped issues and no one seemed to know the answers. I trudged ahead with many of the same emotions mentioned in this letter, not knowing what I was doing and knowing that I was not good enough for these kids. They deserved better and TFA continues not to value them just like the system does. I left after one year and while I didn’t get the threats, people who had been so warm and fuzzy while pushing TFA propaganda suddenly cut off contact and were sorry “I wasn’t completing my obligation.” They made it seem as if I was incapable of commitment (my mid-career resume says otherwise) and was at fault though, in reality, TFA did not deliver what was promised. I was promised support and training, my kiddos with learning disabilities were promised a teacher who has new and unique strategies that will really make a difference. They got neither. My kids were successful only because my poor district provides excellent training and support to sped teachers because they care about students. It sickens me that my district had to pay for me though they were the ones to train and support me so that my kiddos could be successful. When I left I refused to submit my stats because they belonged to the district and not in some anecdote to support TFA funding requests. Rebecca thank you for speaking this truth. You are not alone.

        Like

      • Thank you for speaking up about this issue. This is the first time I have seen someone specifically address the issues around the lack of sped training in TFA and the damage it causes to corps members, schools, and students. At institute I had one 30 minute sped-related session on how to work WITH an inclusion teacher, nothing about what to do if you ARE the inclusion teacher. I asked a lot of questions about IEPs and strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities and no one seemed to know the answers. I trudged ahead with many of the same emotions mentioned in this letter, not knowing what I was doing and knowing that I was not good enough for these kids. They deserved better and TFA continues not to value them just like the system does. I left after one year and while I didn’t get the threats, people who had been so warm and fuzzy while pushing TFA propaganda suddenly cut off contact and were sorry “I wasn’t completing my obligation.” They made it seem as if I was incapable of commitment (my mid-career resume says otherwise) and was at fault though, in reality, TFA did not deliver what was promised. I was promised support and training, my kiddos with learning disabilities were promised a teacher who has new and unique strategies that will really make a difference. They got neither. My kids were successful only because my district, though low on funds and high on need, provides excellent training and support to sped teachers because they care about students. It sickens me that my district had to pay TFA for me though they were the ones to train and support me so that my kiddos could be successful. When I left I refused to submit my stats because they belonged to the district and not in some anecdote to support TFA funding requests. Rebecca thank you for speaking this truth. You are not alone.

        Like

  2. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    A brave post by someone who has been there. Everything we have been yelling about is now coming out in the open. Just like the Nazis, public education is being destroyed and replaced with corporate indoctrination…where the poor and disabled are seen as undesirables, just like in Nazi Germany…can eugenics be far behind…?

    Like

  3. Don Corley // July 19, 2015 at 3:51 pm // Reply

    A very informative, eye-opening, thought-proviking letter. I take exception to the referencing of the school system being broken.

    All of the problems are not a result of broken schools, but of a broken society. Schools do need to deal with these problems, but yearly standardized testing followed by punishment is not the way to do it.

    Like

  4. Be aware that if a protected population (minority, disabled, girls) has a higher percentage of untrained teachers, than the general population, then that could be a case for discrimination. I believe this is relevant to both the TFA classroom advisors and the students. Of course we care for the students. However, the TFA classroom advisors might be lead to believe they ARE helping,so it is important that former TFA is able to advise them what the experience is like and the negative impact on all.

    Like

  5. MB Franzeo // July 19, 2015 at 12:33 am // Reply

    I’m sorry about the disappointed TFA members and lack of support they/you had, but I think you’re missing the point. It’s not about you, it’s about the idiotic idea that TFA members with no education or training in Special Education is even allowed near these students. It’s about the students and parents that deserve a licensed trained professional in the room. Serious.

    Like

  6. Amanda Knerr // July 18, 2015 at 11:06 pm // Reply

    While I learned a lot about myself during my TFA experience a lot of what this member says resonates with me. More than half the group of teachers that started with me In NOLA quit before the end of the first year. I found myself in a severe/profound self-contained classroom with few resources and extremely challenging and often violent students. The TFA staff supposedly assigned to support me stopped by my classroom once/maybe twice during the first semester. The second year TFA teachers at my school completely ignored me, and the camaraderie promised was no where to be found. When I finally quit after months of migraines, anxiety, exhaustion, guilt, and depression, I was made to feel like I was all alone and my failure was my own fault. For years so much of the media about TFA was positive. It is sad to hear that this kind of experience is still happening to TFA participants today but it is good that the real experience of many of us is finally being publicly voiced.

    Like

  7. Very powerful. Even after a 1 1/2 year credential program and 6 months of student teaching I still wasn’t prepared so how can TFA be prepared?

    Like

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Rebecca’s letter to new #TeachForAmerica recruits #NN15 | bpollock42
  2. Truth For America: New alum testimonials about @TeachForAmerica | Cloaking Inequity
  3. Truth For America: TFA Alumni Speak - NPE Action

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