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.”
If 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.
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.
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Please blame the media who continue to write only puff pieces for/about TFA for any typos.
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