B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 24 2011

B is for Better

Here’s to not falling into the blogging “catch-up” trap, where I recount what has happened since I last updated in June.  Suffice it to say that there have been victories and defeats, personally and professionally.  Every teaching day is still massively challenging, and I remain grateful for my students and their families, for my charter network, and for the love and support of my friends and family.  I have officially completed 3/4 of my corps commitment and am enjoying a much-needed break in my parents’ home in Virginia.

I have a lot on my mind regarding Teach For America, and the publication of this article (http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2012/teach-for-america/) has allowed many of my jumbled thoughts to coalesce.  The article alleges that, “TFA exists for nothing if not for adjusting poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy.”  The author writes much about the threat to “regular teachers” and teachers unions that Teach For America poses, and he lambasts Rhee, Kopp, and others for relying on standardized tests as evidence of success with students.

I am a corps member.  The majority of teachers in my charter school are corps members, as are the majority of my friends who teach in public schools.  And yet, we are a varied crowd.  Our motivations to teach and our daily renewal of our commitment to teach (yes, each day is a deliberate decision) are varied.  Most corps members are (by requirement or otherwise) members of their local teachers union; some are not.  Some live in the communities where they teach; others do not.  Many will stay in the classroom or pursue leadership in their school system; others will not.

And you know what’s striking about all of those things?  The same is true for traditionally trained teachers, who entered the profession for different reasons, will stay for varied amounts of time, interact with their students uniquely, and collaborate with fellow teachers as they please.

Critics of Teach For America seem to blindly generalize about the corps in ways that I have never heard a corps member blindly generalize about traditionally trained teachers.  (It would be absurd, of course, to make sweeping statements about the majority teaching population in the United States.)  Sometimes they write in a defeatist manner (“The more exclusive TFA becomes, the more ordinary regular teachers seem.”) and other times more aggressively.  In most cases, corps members are perceived as a monolith of naive individuals who lack criticism for our own organization.

But, I invite our critics to step into our professional development sessions (open to the public) or our summer training institute and to hear the banter in which corps members engage.  We are also concerned about the state of teachers unions- rarely are we strictly in favor or against, but we do keep student welfare at the heart of the discussion.  We are also concerned about the impact that short term teaching may have on students and a community.  We are also concerned about the politics of education reform and about the huge emphasis on standardized tests.  We have various ideas about teacher accountability, about charter schools, and about racial and socioeconomic divisions between teachers and students.

This is no “debate” in which we’re currently engaging- it’s a teaching civil war that distracts our energy from the ones we serve.  We don’t have to agree on everything politically in order to create nurturing and encouraging classrooms for the children of America.  Let’s model for our students what it looks like when we acknowledge nuances in policy and personal opinions in the midst of disagreements.

We can do better- I’m committed to valuing teachers as individuals, despite their training and background.  Are you?

For the Kids,



2 Responses

  1. I work with many TFA teachers in my hometown on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. I agree with some of your points. However, I am a tribal member who is being pushed out of teaching by the entire Teach for America push in our schools to somehow “equalize education.”

    A start for equalizing education on my reservation is trusting that we do have our own people who can do just as much, but never get recognized because we are a humble people who do not toot our own horns about how great we are.

    • Hi Lynne,

      Thank you for your patience in waiting for me to approve your comment. And thank you for writing. I’m sorry to hear that tribal members are not receiving teaching positions. I don’t know very much about how corps members are placed on your reservation or what the teaching qualifications are, but I know that Jim Curran, the executive director of the South Dakota region of TFA, would be glad to talk to you: james.curran@teachforamerica.org.

      I hope that corps members have always shown respect for reservation residents- as an organization, we definitely believe in the sovereignty of the communities we serve.


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About this Blog

Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010

Bay Area
Elementary School

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