I’ve written extensively about my experience as a traditionally trained educator who turned to TFA for a job during the height of the recession that began in 2008. I’ve just published an autoethnography on my experiences, and I’ve spoken at length about TFA’s theoretical framework and on how TFA undermines the profession of teaching. However, I’d like to use this opportunity to expand upon what I’ll call the exploitation of traditionally trained educators who find themselves in the ranks of TFA – a phenomenon directly associated with my experience in TFA.
Because I was fortunate enough to have good traditional pre-service university training, a good student-teaching semester, and great mentors/professors of education, I felt very equipped to teach. TFA caught on to my superior teaching, which I attribute to my traditional training not 18 hours of TFA preparation, and sought to exploit it whenever possible. I obliged. This exploitation took many forms:
- Countless classroom visits from prospective corps members;
- Countless classroom visits from “struggling” corps members;
- Countless classroom visits from regional and national TFA staff (including the then President of TFA, Matt Kramer);
- Numerous classroom visits from State Representatives (notably, Chip Rogers the House Majority Leader, Alisha Thomas Morgan, and Rahn Mayo) and State Senators (Bill Heath and John Albers) as TFA sought to increase its financial support and political clout;
- Classroom visits from the Superintendent of the State of Georgia (John Barge), the Education Policy Advisor to the Governor (Kristin Bernhard), and the House Budget Office Deputy Director (Christine Murdock);
- Classroom visits from the legal firm of McKenna, Long, & Aldridge who “sponsored” me to the tune of $10,000 (the money went to TFA’s recruiting coffers and not to my classroom). The connection at the firm was attorney Jason Esteves (a TFA alum and current candidate for the Atlanta Public School Board);
- Presenting my classroom management system to corps members at TFA’s Summer Institute.
Essentially, TFA was cashing in on what appeared to be a “good example” of TFA. And while I did my best to inform my audience and classroom visitors that I was traditionally trained, I wasn’t always afforded the opportunity. This, in my view, presented the opportunity for TFA to casually ignore, whenever possible, my non-TFA training and the role it played in shaping me as an educator. I know that I was video taped numerous times by TFA regional staff; yet, I’ve never seen or heard what has been done with that footage.
In a recent conversation with another researcher, I’ve learned that TFA is using video footage of a university trained teacher turned corps member (like myself) during their Institute training, and until recently, without her knowledge. Unfortunately, the result of this charade fills incoming corps members – who often have no experience in pedagogical training – with the mindset that good teaching naturally follows their 18 hours of Institute practice…never mind that many of the examples used to portray good teaching may be coming from traditionally trained educators.
When TFA markets themselves as attracting traditionally trained educators without contextualizing the phenomenon within the economic crisis that left many educators without jobs (myself included), or when it exploits traditionally trained educators in a false façade of TFA’s ability to produce great teachers, the profession is further undermined.
I do believe that there are good people in TFA. And I do believe, based on empirical evidence, that there are corps members who struggle long enough to be decent teachers. However, I am fearful that the influx of traditionally trained educators due to the economic downturn has provided TFA with the opportunity to further its own financial and political agenda via a Potemkin village that promotes a falsehood to its prospective recruits, its struggling corp members, its financial/political backers, and perhaps most distressingly itself.
Jameson Brewer is a Ph.D. student in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois where he studies Teach For America (TFA) and other neoliberal movements in public education. Prior to his studies, Jameson, a traditionally trained educator, taught for TFA in Atlanta Public Schools, where he witnessed the impact of neoliberal ideology first hand. He earned a B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education from Valdosta State University and a M.S. in Social Foundations of Education from Georgia State University.