10 things you should know about TFA corps member realities

In this post, I will address the debt and the course commitments of new TFA corps members. I will reference several Teach For America corps members that I have come to know, over the last fifteen years.

#1. Teach For America’s partnerships are financial boosts for Colleges of Education that offer licensure after completion of a two-year graduate program of study. This coincides with corps members’ two-year teaching commitment in the region, which is often a new location for recent college graduates who are figuring out housing, roommates, transportation, finances, school and TFA commitments, at the same time.

Universities that partner with Teach For America offer an anchor of legitimacy for corps members. This is reactive. More than 98% did not complete education coursework prior to their being hired to teach the most vulnerable student populations.

#2. Depending upon the partnership university’s tuition scale, it’s a matter of location, location, location that determines corps members’ university fees. Many will carry very large debt for graduate courses. For example, corps members who attend the University of Pennsylvania note that they leave with a UPENN grad degree in education that puts them about $40,000 in debt.

#3. The AmeriCorps stipend comes to about $11,000 after two years of teaching with TFA. That still leaves somebody with $30,000 in graduate student loans. And, while universities (e.g. Boston University) do offer TFA corps a discounted tuition rate, parents, applicants and corps members are surprised to learn that their graduate study is not free, just because they are affiliated with Teach For America and complete their two years as a TFA corps member in good standing.

Most note how they thought that’s what they understood from the TFA recruiter.
Additionally, a good number believe that all of their undergraduate student debt will be wiped away, too, but this is not the case.

Many partner universities offer in-state tuition as a benefit for novice Teach For America corps members who teaching in their state in spite of many states that face fiscal issues and $99 million dollar cuts to higher education.

I’m often asked if certified teachers who arrive from out-of-state to teach receive the same in-state tuition perk that TFA receives. Unfortunately, residency requirements apply for credentialed teachers seeking a graduate degree in education, special education, counseling, education technology or educational leadership at the same state universities.

#4. While it is true that many universities double the Americorps stipend earned by TFA’s corps members who teach for two years: $11,000 becomes $22,000, this bonus only works if the corps member has not depleted their stipend allowance for their graduate education coursework.

#5. During a recent dinner, a guest noted that her niece, graduating from NYU this month, will be teaching in Philadelphia with TFA. She clarified: “TFA is ‘a stepping stone’ to law school. My niece isn’t intending to be a teacher.”

“So… what is she intending,” I asked. “What does she know about teaching kids?”….anything? …anyone?… Bueller?

She was under the impression that law school would be less expensive because of her nieces future two-year teaching through TFA.

#6. It’s interesting how legislation ensures that aspiring cosmetologists cannot practice without a license. State regulations mandate their full time training that includes 12, 15, or 18 weeks in Arizona, California, Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, and most states where Teach For America corps members teach without a teaching license or even the same minimal weeks of practice teaching requirements.

#7. The idea that education courses held in the early evening or on-line are going to replace practice in the classroom goes against the research literature. Debra Britzman’s (1991) Practice makes Practice (SUNY Press), notes that only consistent and supervised practice in multiple classrooms that offers several opportunities to teach small groups, large groups, differentiate instruction, manage behaviors, manage time, plan multiple lessons, plan for accommodations of lessons, assess student learning, revise how you teach the first time (when you wonder why students don’t understand your first lesson), communicate with parents, communicate with other teachers, understand the culture of the community (which might be different from the one you were raised in), and meet the learning needs of ELD (English Language Development) and Special Education students, takes time. Teacher development differs from the 5-week intensive at Teach For America’s Corps Training Summer Institute.

#8. In some schools where TFA are hired, scripted curriculum is used, and corps members are supposed to use it. However, teaching with a scripted curriculum in hand, is not teaching. It’s following a predetermined set of procedures. Anyone who has spent time with children will tell you that children are individuals who enter our schools and communities with varied levels of skills sets, abilities, and needs. Motivation to learn is not enhanced when you follow a script and arrive with limited classroom management.

#9.University faculty note that they it has become difficult to address questions of their Teach For America’s corps teachers in their education graduate classes because:
a) A set of PowerPoint slides is provided to faculty prepared by Teach For America, and presents scripted course content for corps member graduate students,

b) Corps members are reticent to discuss realities and concerns with issues surrounding teaching special-education students, early literacy, language learners, differentiating instruction and managing the classroom, with their education professors, because other class members (Corps members themselves) are likely to share what is said in the context of their education classes, with TFA’s managing directors.

#10. The program of study generally aligns to a four-semester commitment by TFA corps enrolled in graduate education courses. Most are struggling during the first semester and find the pace, usually two nights per week and a weekend, rather accelerated at a time when life is in high gear for them.

Many corps members report that they always excelled in their classes as undergraduates and expect the same from university coursework in education. They want to know that their assignments, readings and course requirements can be compartmentalized. Corps members pine for their former work/university/social life balance. But life as a newly minted corps member means that juggling becomes your new skill set. You juggle your school’s expectations, TFA’s requirements and e-mail blasts, and university classes.


Most TFA corps members admitted to me that they never felt so exhausted, have no social life, don’t call home, and have let themselves go, gained weight from food at TFA events, and because they “can’t fit in the time to exercise.” Clearly, we must do better for the young TFA corps members and for out nation’s children.




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