for anyone deciding TFA or no TFA (Teach for America)

Aug 8, 2013
I see a lot of these posts, and I've been there.

• I'd never give advice expecting the advice-recipient to follow it. Just take everyone's advice and opinions, and weigh it all out based on your own analysis and intuition. This is my perspective.

• When you're deciding, and if you are unfamiliar with education in general and education in under-resourced neighborhoods, learn learn learn before you apply. Learn as much as you can. Do your research, beyond op-eds and forums. a) SHADOW current teachers, both TFA and traditional teachers, as many as you can. This is invaluable to preparing to be a teacher. Once you are actually a teacher, you'll get almost zero chances to shadow, and that will greatly limit your perspective to what's going on at your school alone. Observe students from students' perspectives and talk with them, ask them questions. b) READ perspectives from education experts, don't limit yourself to just Michelle Rhee or just Diane Ravitch etc. -- these are all things you'd do to prepare to be a doctor, no?

• Wait, aren't you going to medical school? Maybe? Still trying to figure it out? Okay well I get it, all of it. And I've seen examples of people who have no shame about doing TFA to get into med school, and that could go terribly wrong and suck for all parties involved. I've been an example of someone who was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I have figured it out now, but I would take a different route if I could do it again, (see below)

• If you have never lived in or worked with underserved communities (beyond spotty community service projects in college), I would recommend against doing TFA. TFA says that we need smart leaders > education experts to turn around failing schools and transform the lives of poor students. TFA forgot a couple things. a) forgot about the importance of the ability to truly understand what poor children of color in the US go through and have been through. We can read "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria" or the autobiography of malcolm X, that doesn't mean we understand! Think about the very absolute worst thing that has ever happened to you. Now imagine that you're with someone who you know has no idea what that experience was like, but is trying to teach you exactly what you need to do. That's just a glimpse of the idea I'm trying to convey. b) sht this is too long so I'm not going to go into the rest.

• That doesnt' mean you shouldn't get experience working with low-income communities if you come from a more affluent background/private school/etc. But there are ways other than throwing yourself into a role where you are RESPONSIBLE for very big and important things in other people's lives. That's just a hella lot of pressure for yourself, and too much of a risk that I think outweighs the benefits of a secure out-of-college job that others respect and looks good on your resume. Find community organizers or other people who have worked for a very long time to improve the conditions of low-income communities, and ask about opportunities that are right for you, whether during your day job or outside of it. Search online for 1 or 2 year fellowships where they primarily train you while you get experience in a particular field like public policy.

• Yes there are examples of TFA success stories, that's how it's so popular (plus the intense marketing). But it's just oh so much more complicated in the grand scheme of things. That's something I can't go into in this post. Question what is your (our) idea of success. Question WHO you're helping to make successful (not all underserved kids are the same-some will go to harvard, some will go to prison). Question what are some of the consequences in pushing forth TFA, an organization that has great positive and negative consequences to public education and our culture at large.

• Someone must be wondering, so I'll answer this. Yes I applied to TFA, had a horrible training experience, had a relatively wonderful teaching experience because of my students, and quit for a mix of personal and professional reasons. I continued working in public schools in other capacities. This is a whole different thread (for anyone who is deciding to quit TFA), but yeah, I am doing fine. I've learned a lot. We can talk more.

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