The Trajectory of TFA
If you can't open the link, it promotes a TFA-sponsored event entitled "How Will You Continue To Lead?" subtitled, "Networking, Jobs, Knowledge." Sixteen companies are advertised as attendees, among them is a single solitary entity from the field of public education (Oakland Unified School District) and I'll bet all the money in my pockets OUSD is being represented by an individual (a former regional director?) from the "incubator" program designed to create and open manynewschools in an already under-enrolled district.
But who cares, right? This is another in a long list of such events. Routine. Typical. Except I have never received an invitation to an event entitled: "How Will You Continue To Teach?" I have never been invited to an alumni summit with the focus: "How Will You Continue To Maximize Learning In The Communities We Recruited You To Serve?" I have never been to a panel discussion where representatives from the type of schools and districts (public, under-resourced, under-achieving) TFA places corps members into even came close to equaling the number of representatives from companies and organizations who seek to privatize the public sphere. Never.
I do, however, have the opportunity to receive monthly emails about career opportunities in media, journalism, health, non-profit leadership, grad school, policy school, ed school, etc. I have the opportunity to attend functions that tell me all the great things I should be doing instead of teaching. I can read in alumni bulletins all the wonderful accomplishments made by former corps members once they got out from under the shadow of those pesky under-performing urban schools. I can talk to a full-time TFA employee whose sole purpose is easing a corps member's transition from a teaching "career" into another field and other endeavors, but I cannot have a conversation with a full-time employee about how to continue my development as an educator of high needs, at risk kids. That position does not exist. And I cannot ever hear about successes in teaching and learning, unless they occurred at Lighthouse or Aspire, unless they occurred before the individual started a non-profit, unless they occurred in a corps member's 2nd year, right before they were accepted to Harvard Law. Apparently, those successes do not exist.
Teach For Awhile does an excellent job of supporting the development of teachers in their first two years in the classroom. Some leave or do not effect the change they were recruited to bring about, and this is not a criticism of those individuals; ed school teachers do the same. This is not about the failures and the bitter burn-outs. No, this is about the successful, those who continue to teach -- or would, if only they received the message, at some point, at some time that it was a valued activity. This is about the institutional black-hole those individuals fall into, their lack of role within the organization (beyond sending instructional materials to first-year teachers). This is about the myth that the best way to bring about educational reform is to 1) align yourself with media-friendly small/charter school movements and undermine the school communities you promote yourself as serving and 2) steer talented individuals with some teaching experience out of the classroom and into other fields so they can tangentially affect the lives of today's poor urban and rural youth -- or not affect them at all. This is about TFA doubling down on the old saw that its members will use their law, policy, and grad school degress to benefit the communities in which they once taught. This is about missed opportunities and turning a blind eye.
The educational landscape is not worse off because Teach For America exists. But the potential to enact change is inherently limited by policy approaches that systematically encourage, enable, and directs teachers out of the classroom. It's old hat to point out that TFA teachers leave teaching, leave education, and the massaged statistics TFA offers about people still "impacting" low-income communities do little to make a dent in this reality. This exodus does not, however, occur causelessly, in a vaccuum of intent. Whether in the case of direct recruiting (Can I talk to you about all the wonderful opportunities available in the national office?) the glaring lack of programs and support mechanisms designed to maximize the effectiveness of post-2nd year teachers, or simply the repeated message that continued teaching is just not what you are supposed to be doing anymore, TFA continually tramples on the "movement" it purports to build.