Friday, November 11, 2005

What Is TFA's Problem?

It's bad enough TFA shills for the charter school industry every chance it gets, functioning now as a veritable farm system for the KIPP/charter school Major Leagues, and... it's bad enough TFA cares more about easing your transition into policy school than keeping you teaching under-resourced, under-educated youth, but now... there are recruiting movements designed to take teachers out of the classroom. Out of the classroom. Out.

Emails go out to second-year corps members (of which they are four at my school) urging them to consider a job pushing paper in the TFA corporate office world. The response from at least one such teacher at my school is "no thanks, I plan to keep teaching," and still three TFA honchos show up to continue the recruiting process. Stop teaching, come work in an office. Stop working in what should be the flagship school for pretty much anyone concerned with public education in Northern California, and go work on the style book, and copy-editing Institute materials, and help recruit more Harvard kids so the numbers look good the next time the New York Times runs a story.

Never mind for a second that it is abhorrent to try and actively remove quality teachers who like teaching from the classroom. Forget how repugnant that is, and just think about what fucking gall it takes to enter a place of business without permission from the manager (principal) and engage in discussions of future employment opportunities that would take those employees away from that place of business. I think there are actual laws, not to mention a variety of ethical obbligations, that forbid such pirating. TFA ought to realize that corps members are not your employees. You want to have that discussion and do your recruiting, I think you suck for it, but do it on email, or after school, or at a CDN. But to do it on the clock, during working hours, at the workplace you're trying to get them to leave? Would that you had the same testicular fortitude in helping protect public education from the chartering and privatizing hordes.

And you're trying to get teachers to leave the classroom! To leave. The classroom. Think of all the effort, time, money spent on keeping quality teachers teaching, especially in under-resourced school districts, and here comes the big-shots with their message of go do something else. Teach For Awhile and then get the hell out, and we'll pay you a lot more. This isn't simply making the opportunities available, no no no, this is personal visits by three executives. In discussing the neo-conservative policy death march, a radio talk personality said, "When they show you who they are, believe them." That's where I am with Teach For America. I do not believe they actually want people to teach. Contrasted to the countless emails, postings, and messages about grad school and private sector employment opportunities, not to mention a glorious future undermining public schools through the promotion of charter school employ, I cannot remember, ever, seeing, hearing, or reading someone from TFA actually promote or encourage the furtherance of a teaching career. That's not something they can sell at Palo Alto fund-raisers. Teachers are boring and unlucrative.


Blogger posthipchick said...

funny, they never try to recruit ME. do they ever try to recruit YOU?
probably because i didn't go to harvard and don't talk about my stellar tfa "experience" all the time.
once i started teaching, i never really felt part of tfa. i just felt like a teacher.

2:04 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Besides the fact that TFA doesn't like me very much, I think I've made it fairly clear that I don't want anything to do with them that doesn't involve teaching. More and more, I really don't like them.

2:11 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Not so much not liking them, personally, but rather being distrubed/ distressed with the institutional trajectory.

9:34 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

they have nothing to do with me anymore.
i didn't fit their profile.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Anonymouph said...

I'm not going to pretend that I'm as fired-up as you are about TFA's lack of enthusiasm for people who continue teaching, but I definitely understand the points you make. I'm in my 3rd and final year, but I'm not leaving because of any pressure from TFA, just the realization that I may do more harm than good if I keep teaching after this year.

My question is this: What, if anything, has TFA said about your blog? I've been keeping a blog for the last two years on which I sometimes mention TFA, and apparently, some TFA execs weren't too thrilled about it. I use Sitemeter to track my visits. A few months back, I saw where I had gotten a hit from a link in an e-mail sent from one region's Executive Director to my region's ED. The subject line of the e-mail was "One of your corps members has a blog."

This angered me for several reasons:

1) I wasn't even a corps member, but an alumna, at this point.
2) Who cares if I HAVE A BLOG??!?!?!
3) Quit sneaking around and confront me if you're so upset about it. You thought I was worthy of being accepted into your selective program. Don't you think I'm intelligent enough that you could speak to me personally about this?
4) Why is TFA stupid enough to use an e-mail system that allows the sender, recipient, and subject-line to show up on my free, no-frills Sitemeter account? Duh!

Anyway, I just wondered if you have ever gotten crap from TFA about your blog.

5:39 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Regarding monitoring, etc., no one has said anything to me yet, but I received an (otherwise innocuous) email, the timing of which makes me think that will change soon. Can you imagine the fall-out if a corps member blogged about Institute, from Institute, during Institute?

Why more harm than good?

6:50 AM  
Blogger Ms. H said...

Thanks for sharing this. My girlfriend recently interviewed for a position with TFA -- some administrative thing -- and I'm sure she'll be even happier she didn't get it after she reads your post.
T3ach3rs Coll3g3 here in NYC takes brilliant young English teachers out of schools where they've been successful and gives them way more cash to be indoctrinators with the Reading and Writing Project.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Johanna said...

This is great. Down with TFA!

8:51 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

There's times when critiquing makes me feel... like... ungrateful, as intellectually bizarre as that is.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Anonymouph said...

Ha, Ha... a girl in my region blogged about Institute while at Institute in Houston this past summer. She blogged about a CMA that she, and apparently a lot of others, had a crush on. By the end of the five weeks, EVERYONE at Institute knew of and was reading her blog. (Great for her readership, right?) I guess TFA addressed it in a general session by issuing a broad statement about how we portray TFA and our students in public forums. Fair enough.

I was surprised the blogger didn't at least get put on the CMIP.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Such bitterness! I am a TFA alumnus and had a great experience. I am still in education- administration now. I certainly don’t think TFA is perfect but I do think that at the very least they are doing something important and creating awareness and a movement in education.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Such bitterness! I am a TFA alumnus and had a great experience. I am still in education- administration now. I certainly don’t think TFA is perfect but I do think that at the very least they are doing something important and creating awareness and a movement in education.

11:26 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

No where in this critique do I suggest that TFA is somehow unimportant. Truly, a close reading of what I wrote would reveal how important I think their work is and how powerful. This is, of course, why I find the squandering of that potential so distasteful. While TFA may be creating awareness, they are falling short of creating a movement, pulling up at the last bend in the race to put on a new seat of windshield wipers. Do you know how much better my 3rd year was than my second? How much better I am now than last year? How much better I will be next year? I can build and foster student achievement in ways that were impossible as a corps member. If I had responded to the peer pressure and the clarion call, none of that would have possible. I'd just be a policy student with a liberal agenda and a couple good stories to tell. Teachers leaving does not equate to a movement. Teachers teaching, does.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TFA regions are apparently very different, which comes as no surprise. I am a TFA alum still teaching in my original placement. TFA alums in my region are definitely celebrated, encouraged and continually consulted for advice. I've led new teacher support groups, courses on professional saturdays and informally helped out other new teachers. I was emailed a couple of times about becoming an RD, but had no interest, said so and was left alone.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

It was interesting for me to read this post because a good friend of mine was recently agonizing over whether to stay in her original placement for a third year, take a TFA management job, or go to a charter school.

Ultimately she chose to stay for a third year, while I chose to take an RD offer. Many of her reasons for staying in the classroom are very similar to the ones you cited - impact, increased effectiveness, and building a genuine movement to improve teaching in high-need schools.

The way I see it, neither the wholesale removal of successful teachers from the classroom nor the wholesale dedication to teaching in the classroom constitutes a movement. A movement is a societal sea change, which can only result from simultaneous and orchestrated efforts across multiple sectors.

The only way that TFA is going to accomplish its mission is if the organization constantly aspires to be better next year than it was last year. The only way to get that sort of improvement is to make sure our staff - as well as our CM's - are truly the best and the brightest.

We all know how much talent and hard work good teaching requires, so it does not seem problematic to me for TFA to look to good teachers as a pool of excellent managers.

I hear you about the apparently gross disconnect between "pushing paper" and having a meaningful impact on students' lives, but I doubt that classroom impact would even be possible without incredibly talented former educators who decide to share their wisdom with new recruits.

My friend and I are pursuing very different roles next year, but I think that the only way either of us will have a significant impact on educational equity is if the other is doing their job.

9:40 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Daniel,

I've heard the speech about "two halves to the movement many times." My orginal post was less about this philosophy, and more about the unethical, disrespectful, and damaging way that former-ED and the current ED choose to go about recruiting the "other half" of the movement. Much could continue to be said about the downright disgusting nature of this trend, of the implications of TFA's massive growth on its prevalance, and of whether one excellent PD is even the bare equivalent of an average classroom teacher in terms of impact. Much could be said, so I don't know where to start.

Except this: Until TFA makes more of an effort to value those who continue to teach, until TFA shows a commitment to the communities it works with by repudiating its disastrous relationship with charter- and for-profit-schools (you know who W. Kopp is married to, right?), and until TFA ceases to promote doing anything else over the prospect of continuing the dynamic process of becoming an educational leader, TFA doesn't get to make the two-parts-to-the-movement argument, because everything they do shows they really don't care about the first part. At all.

Dig me?

3:53 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I re-read your post in addition to carefully reading your reply to my comment, and I do have a few more thoughts.

First of all, I do hear what you are saying regarding the aggressive recruiting tactics TFA employs, but I'm a bit curious about how it played out in your classroom.

This fall, I had my ED plus the head of Houston Institute and a national office recruiter in my classroom (all on the same day, which was a bit unnerving...) but I had requested them to be there. They sent out an email a couple weeks in advance, and said if you want us to see you teach let us know.

After they observed, they invited us to attend an entirely optional meeting that evening at the regional office. Again, they were certainly making a strong case, but putting myself in the audience for their spiel was totally my call. I don't know if the practices in CA are different, but I felt as though recruitment happened on my terms. Are you saying they just showed up unannounced and uninvited, and gave you the full-court press?

As far as TFA not really constituting or supporting a movement, I'm confused about why the strong relationship they've built with charter schools is problematic. I understand our mission to be the provision of a high-quality education to all American children, regardless of socio-economic status. I don't understand how charter schools run contrary to our mission. I care about whether or not students from all walks of life can attain an excellent education. I really don't care who gets paid for giving it to them.

Maybe I'm just ignorant on the topic, but what is so dubious about the rise of charter schools and TFA's collaboration with them?

6:35 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Daniel,

The tactics I find so offensive involve ED and national folks showing up at school for recruitment purposes without talking to a principal, without permission, after CMs and alumni have previously expressed a desire to remain in the classroom and continuing the attempt to recruit people away from teaching. Given a context where so much emphasis and so many resources (full-time staff, those blasts, the majority of the site) are devoted toward easing one's transition into post-teaching work, it sorta makes the whole thing worse. Besides, there's certainly enough people in the TFA-verse leaving teaching every already, that the pursuit of those who might otherwise continue feels pretty ridiculous to me.

Regarding charter schools, I too believe that all children should receive a quality education. Concentrating capital -- human and otherwise -- for pursuits that educate small percentages of the population at an expense to the rest of the whole we continue to be unaware of is not the answer. Moreover, there's something kinda gross about TFA, an organization that builds its reputation and recruits its members based on a perceived commitment to public education, throwing under the bus those districts and schools in which its members work by facilitating and encouraging their exodus away from those communities of greatest need.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Hi again,

Ok, fair enough, I see your point about unsolicited (and, indeed, repeatedly rebuffed) recruitment efforts. It's one thing to make CM's aware of all the opportunities available at TFA, it's another thing to bring the hard-sell to the school site.

Where I remain a bit skeptical is with regard to the purportedly negative outcomes of TFA associating tightly with charter schools. Although I am certainly no expert, from what I understand these are essentially public schools (i.e., no tuition, no religious requirements for admission, etc.). They admittedly only have so much room, and can only educate so many students, but aren't they essentially serving as a model of what 21st century public education should look like?

In other words, I see charter schools as setting the tone for the future of education. I strongly believe that teaching should be viewed as a profession on par with attorneys, doctors, accountants, etc. - but the only way you'll get the average American (and by extension, legislatures) on-board with that concept is if teachers and schools promote that concept. Teachers should be paid high salaries - 60-70K at first, with six-figure potential - and they should be working accordingly. 60-hr weeks should be the norm, not the exception.

Teacher compensation packages desperately need to improve, but it is a two-way street. Teachers need to cultivate that ethos of professionalism on their own, focusing on results rather than their contract hours.

I see charter schools as a model of that ethos - teachers working their butts off, and getting paid what they deserve. If TFA is helping to create more and more examples of that model, aren't they doing education (and, educators) a great service?

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hats off to you guys. I am 3/4 through reading the book Relentless Pursuit. My tv is out so I'm reading scripts(books). I though this would be like boston public. Turns out it's worse. Good intentions. Best of the Best. Grand Illusion. Corporate kowtow. Machiavellian manipulations. A few comments from me a humble mech engr who's been through bullshit in business and technology.
1.) Awesome kudo's for anybody who made the TFA cut.
2.) Awesome kudo's for spending 2 years to teach kids who don't give an F.
3.) You were the best and brightest, but there's no consolation prize. Where do you go from here? Good luck.

My last comments from what I've learned from the book so far:
1.) Wendy Kopp never taught a day in class, but is a master debater and a deal maker par excellance. Almost a "white jesse jackson".
2.) TFA makes great tax writeoffs for the rich, but is encroaching on my tax money.
3.) The smartest people don't crave greed, but crave competition and ascension.

Ultimately, I don't disagree with WK's thesis.
1.) The smartest people will be smart enough to figure out how to teach the "stupidest" children. (If they fail, they just weren't "smart" enough.)
2.) TFA will cultivate future politicians who will ultimately "fix" the education system.

Is it really that simple? WK has proven it is obviously sellable. What's simple is perpetual bureacratic survival. No results. No extinction.

10:32 AM  

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