Teach for America: One Day ‘Some’ Children
By Rachel Storey
April 3, 2015
Teach for America (TFA) believes that “one day all children can have access to an excellent education.” The organization believes that through putting highly educated individuals into a teaching position for two years, the education systems in America can fundamentally change. On the surface, the plan seems fantastic. Young motivated people, teaching the youth of America to reach for their dreams, what could possibly go wrong?
As a 2012 Teach for America alumnus, I have been able to experience firsthand what I view as the major faults in the teacher program. Before I delve into the issues this program has, I need to make a disclaimer. I love where this program has taken me. The job I have now, and the fact that I get to do something I truly love everyday because of my teacher training, is all due to the Teach for America program. I was a lost senior in college, with a degree that I did not actually want to use. I realized too late that teaching was my calling. For people in my situation, non-traditional teaching programs are fantastic and help individuals achieve their dreams. However, this does not negate the fact there are flaws with the program that can, in turn, hurt the students they are trying to help. Here are three of the major issues I have seen as a former corps member in Teach for America:
1.Teach for America tends to lean pro charter schools.
Teach for America opts to work with, and send many of its corps members to work in charter schools throughout the country. However, numerous teachers are sent to public school districts throughout the country through Teach for America as well. During the two corps years, teachers in the program attend meetings where they relearn the values of Teach for America, many which align with charter school ideology. Oftentimes these values, while created with the best of intentions, do not always address the issues that some public schools face.
Personally, I taught both of my corps years at the same high school in a large southeastern Wisconsin public school district. I would attend these day long meetings and often leave feeling unwanted and undervalued in the corp. All the meetings, that were not at the Teach for America office, were held at charter schools, the majority of the teachers given recognition were charter school teachers, and most leaders that spoke were all from charter schools. To me, it seemed that instead of addressing the issues that teachers in public schools were facing head on, Teacher for America hoped simply that focusing on the positive things charter schools were doing it would lead to change in all school. In order to fully embrace its mission of “one day all children,” Teach for America must remove the hidden fine print of “one day all children, that attend a charter school”
2. Teach for America unequally trains general educators and special educators.
Many corps across the country sends some of their teachers to special education positions. However, during my summer training program, they did not address essential knowledge that special educators needed to learn. I was assigned to teach special education and was surprised when I got to my summer institute to find that I would be teaching middle school math. While I do believe that all teachers need to learn the same basics and fundamentals of teaching, special education teachers must enter their job with and entirely different tool kit than regular education teachers. They need to know what different disabilities entail, how to handle extreme behaviors, and how to write an effective, meaningful, IEP.
For me, the issue of being ill prepared went much further beyond the summer institute. Once I came back to my region, we had three more weeks of training and seminars to attend. The majority of the seminars were content and grade level focused. However, never during this time, did the TFA staff offer my two other special education colleagues and myself a training session on our specific content area. Moreover, while all these sessions were happening with other corps members, in classrooms at a local university, they had the three special education teachers sit in the hallway and attempt to plan lessons without any staff help. Looking back, this just seems to perpetuate the special education stereotype of sticking the students in a hidden away classroom and forgetting about them. Special Education is often referred to as the “gap with in the gap,” referring to the educational gap between low income, minority students and white higher income students plus the gap in performance between general education and special education. In order to meet the needs of all students, it is vital for Teach for America to find a new way to train special education teachers before they begin in the classroom. Recently, Teach for America has made gains in attempting to address the issues that special educators are facing. While there have been many positive changes, there is still a long way to go for all teachers to be trained efficiently.
- Can two years in a school truly change students’ lives?
Teach for America requires its corps member to have a two year commitment in the classroom. During these two years, they believe that a teacher should be able to achieve transformational change in their students. This educational transformational change, to Teach for America, is the closing of the achievement gap between white suburban students and low income minority students. After the two year commitment, while many corps members stay in education, a large number leave the classroom to pursue other interests. Their website indicates at 64% of alumni are still in education, however it does not specify in which sense. This broad umbrella of education encompasses leadership, Teach for America staff, other teaching programs, policy, and advocacy. While these other facets of education are extremely important, when teachers leave to pursue these careers, there becomes a revolving door of teachers. In order to truly make and see change in schools, teachers needs to stay in those schools or districts for a longer period of time. Teach for America wants corps members that will affect change through different avenues when they leave the classroom. However, in order directly help students on a day to day basis, the organization needs to attempt to recruit more corps members that want to stay in the classroom as a career.
Teach for America is a very well-intentioned program that brings thousands of new teachers to the classroom each year. Without programs of this nature, there would be many more classrooms across the country that do not have teachers. These teacher programs do great things for many students. However, in order to make truly large changes to the educational system of America, there needs to be fundamental changes made to the program and the training methods used. There are many students, classrooms, and teachers that are simply being left out of the conversation. Moreover, people that enter into programs like Teach for America need to be dedicated to teaching and the students they serve. Transformational change can only come when there are highly trained teachers working for long periods of time in schools.
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (2015). Get the facts. Retrieved March 14, 2015, from http://www.publiccharters.org/get-the-facts/public-charter-schools/.
Teach for America. (2015). Our mission. Retrieved March 14, 2015, from https://www.teachforamerica.org/.
Ohstrom, K. 2013, June 24. Spring Garden School NO. 1. Philadelphia, PA: Huffington Post.
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Rachel Storey is a high school special education teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, and a 2012 Teach for America Milwaukee Alumnus. She grew up in Buffalo, New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Population and Demographic Studies from Cornell University, she moved to Milwaukee to start her teaching career. Recently she received her Master’s in Urban Special Education from Cardinal Stritch University. Rachel now lives in the Riverwest Neighborhood of Milwaukee and teaches at Golda Meir High School for the Gifted and Talented. In her spare time enjoys travel, cooking, kickboxing, and reading. Microbio: Educator, Individuals with disabilities Advocate, World Traveler, Kickboxing Feminist, 2012 Teach for American Alumnus that has nearly eight years of experience working for the promotion of people with disabilities, their families, and those that love them. Currently reading: 50 Shades of Gray Interested in now: The future of Special Education in charter schools Thinking about: Inclusion vs. self-contained classes