Analyzing TFA (Teach for America)

           It's been a busy week. As I relax a bit this morning, I want to finally address the posts I made on Facebook earlier discussing Teach for America.  One post discussed the lack of color in TFA and one post discussed quitting mid-committment.
Thus, I feel it's time to write down my opinions. This won't be about my TFA experience, as I feel that that is for a different post. Instead, this post will be about my thoughts on the organization.  As such, let me just say that I'm all for TFA's overall message and concept. Wendy Kopp created, in theory a great concept. Her idea was let's have young and hard working college students teach and bring new ideas to low-income areas. It's a different perspective for both the aspiring college student and the students who are soon to be taught.

              After that, comes the reality that TFA is not perfect. 5 to 6 weeks with some teaching experience, which unless you're in a rough summer school - schools in the Delta for example whoooo- like my institute you probably won't really get a sense of classroom management. Thankfully, I actually had a rough classroom so my co-lab and I, a ragtag set of people, definitely had ups and downs with management.  Meanwhile, institute in itself is a messy exercise in planning, brainwashing with terminology, hard hours to get lesson plans done and waking up early. Along with that, you also get, depending on your CMA -mine was awesome - Kathleen!!!!- not a lot of coaching support.

                Once you get into the year you're randomly assigned a school, which becomes another version of a charter school or birth lottery. Some people are placed before TFA actually starts as they weren't wait-listed or got lucky with a charter school; which will help you grow as a teacher tremendously.  No, not all charters are perfect, a subject I could definitely blog about in length, but most have a sense of motivation for both students, administration, and teachers who do care.  The rest of us are at random. For example, let's take a look at my TFA roommates' and some others' placements.  There's a school like Stevenson which has TFA history - good luck to those of you placed in first year of TFA regions - and have a variety of support in place, there are those like KIPP 3-D which have charter rules established, then there's North Forest which now no longer exists because of its terrible administrative management. Schools that have little TFA support require the TFA candidate to see if they can persevere and adapt.

                  In a sense, that's what TFA is: how much can you handle and work with. The first year of TFA you will have a supportive MTLD (teaching coaches) who can help with a lot, unless someone's classroom requires constant push-in. By the 2nd year if you're at least decent, most of that help will fade. As such, unless you have a TFA supported or charter school, your coaching will fade too and then you'll just have to assume what you're good at and experiment a lot. But, I will say that having a supportive administration helps, as not having one means good luck, you're teaching on an island.  Also TFA staff are random, some are far more helpful than others; however, most have their head in the right place.  Furthermore, teaching is not easy at all and neither is the first year, but can you be resilient and adapt? That's why you were hired. You were just as resilient in college; which when you think about it, is a difficult place to outshine people because it's such a higher level of academia.

                 TFA is also different region to region and that should be noted, as you never know where you could end up. The big cities - NYC, Houston, and LA all have established TFAs, but brand new ones don't have a repertoire with TFA and maybe skeptical - or in Chicago's case may not have jobs for you. If this happens you're out, which also happens if you're not passing tests that you may not have signed up for, such as a elementary school teacher moved to teaching pre-cal in high school?!?!. Lastly, if you get imo the dreaded regions Delta, South Dakota, Rio Grande Valley, and/or New Mexico you're most likely going to be on an Indian Reservation, small town community, or middle of nowhere place with not much civilization. Some people can handle that, some people who love NYC's hustle and bustle like me, hate it, but you may not have a choice. Can you do two years of living there?

                  In terms of color, sure I do wish we had more men and women of color; as of note, white women are shown to be the most likely to quit. Naturally, many of our students will comply with someone who looks like them over someone who doesn't. However, I must also be real in stating that not many men of color want to be teachers, even less through TFA. Are you saying stop becoming a strong black male lawyer because you need to teach?! Isn't that part of our mission? That our minority students will be successful?  Still, I would prefer to have more people of color, but the pool is small compared to the large pool of white women who want to help change the world. Mind you, I currently teach with some amazing white female teachers, one of whom I would put in the top 10 teachers I've ever observed.However, point blank, I can get an unruly black middle school student to listen faster than one of my white female teacher friends can if we're both starting from no relationship with the student. On a different note, if we do accept minority people into TFA, I hope they won't be as close-minded as many of my minority corps members were; it's crass and not progressive at all.

At the end of the day, I'm thankful for the people I met in TFA. I'm also thankful for those that decided to stick with teaching over other jobs, because it meant something to them. I'm also thankful for the opportunity TFA gave me rather than the help, because that's honestly what TFA gives you the opportunity; it's you who determines if you can handle it or not.  It's not perfect and neither is any teacher, but we still try to become perfect teachers if we care. As such, this will make us far more able to handle the ups and downs of TFA.