Sunday, September 28, 2014


Why Teach for America Has No Place on the College Campus (re: TCNJ)
Melissa Katz 







 Recently, while checking up on the news on Twitter, I was immediately caught off guard by news of a new follower: “@TFAatTCNJ.” When I went on their page, all I found was the same picture that the national Teach for America organization uses, the title “Teach For America,” and the subheader “The College of New Jersey.” I was in complete shock: I would have known without a doubt if this was something already established on campus, so I had to do some investigating. I posted a (very) angry status on Facebook with a screenshot from Twitter, basically asking if any of my friends knew of anything to do with this so-called “organization.” In the spirit of what many call social media activism, I got the response I needed.

It appears as though there is an attempt to create a student organization on campus, clearly under the name “Teach for America at The College of New Jersey." Despite TCNJ being regarded as having one of the best schools of education/teacher preparation programs, Teach for America has been inching its way into our college more and more, and now it seems as if they want to make that temporary home a little more permanent.  

I have a lot of issues with Teach for America, which can be summed up by the following: TFA brings in some of the most inexperienced teachers and puts them into urban districts, where many times the most experienced and committed teachers are needed. TFA grads are even pushing out veteran teachers (does this surprise you?); with such a high turnover rate, they can keep them at the bottom of the pay scale, and continually keep costs down while teachers come in and out of schools like they are on a conveyor belt or part of a revolving door. Branching off of this, and to make matters worse, students in urban districts with TFA grads as their ‘teachers’ experience much more instability due to the turnover, again when those students are in need of the most stability. Teach for America is no more than a resume-padding two-year stint (if the corps members even stay the full two-years they commit to) that, in my opinion, preserves, rather than eliminates, 'educational inequity' and the so-called 'achievement gap.'

While I don't want to automatically attack anyone involved with  TFA, as I do not know them personally and are unsure of their motives and beliefs - including those looking to start an organization on campus - it is hard for me not to fault people who do join TFA. When committing to an organization as such, I have to question whether or not the corps members actually did any research on the organization beyond what they heard in recruitment sessions or in mass media where the anti-teacher, anti-public education tale is one told too often. If someone really did their research on the organization, wouldn't they be bothered by the fact that someone with only five WEEKS of training is entering a school which is likely in one of the neediest places in the country? Why is it that we, the students of the School of Education at TCNJ, are spending four to five YEARS (depending on the program) at getting our degree in education studies, yet TFA grads can spend a summer training and prance right into a classroom full of 30 kids that each carry a backpack full of their own personal issues?

Some may respond to this by saying, "well, if you have the gift of teaching, it doesn't matter how much education you have. Teaching is an art." I wouldn't disagree entirely with this argument. I absolutely believe teaching is an art and that some people simply have a "gift" for teaching. But having that "gift" does not mean that you are ready whatsoever to step foot into a classroom. Specifically for Urban Education majors - the future teachers and educators of the next generation - we will spend the next FIVE YEARS in a specially designed Urban Elementary Education program at The College of New Jersey, in which we will take multiple classes on content that applies specifically to urban experiences, multiple semesters of in-classroom placement in urban settings in addition to theory classes connected to these in-placement classes, classes on childhood development, and within all of this learn about lesson plans, curriculum writing, produce our own independent research, and better ourselves in all aspects of education as a whole, while specifically tailoring our knowledge and understanding to teaching in an urban district.

Teach for America as an organization has already made a presence at Rutgers University, not far from TCNJ. The following was said about the program there (the person quoted asked to remain anonymous and their wish will be respected):

“Recruiters come to campus and enlist the help of students in setting up info sessions to gain more applicants. With the current state of the economy, they have been very attractive to service minded students because they sell the idea of giving back to communities in need. Then they exploit their labor while also undermining public education by indoctrinating them against unions and for privatization. Bad for teachers, bad for future teachers, bad for those enlisting, and bad for the students with TFA in their schools.”

The issues with TFA go far beyond just the college recruitment level. A report from the Wire in July of 2013 chronicled the organizing resistance to Teach for America from people within the organization itself:

"'As a non-TFA person, I can point out some of the weaknesses in the program, but it's far more powerful when people who are in the program can speak to that,' said Anthony Cody, an outspoken California-based educator who spent 18 years as an Oakland science teacher, during which time, he estimates, he worked with about 30 TFA members in a mentoring program. 'It's really heartening to see teachers who come from TFA that are thinking for themselves and drawing on their experiences in the classroom to realize that there are some real significant problems with the TFA approach...'

"But indeed, many of Teach for America's most vicious opponents point out that the high turnover of trainees being dispatched to some of the country's most challenging school districts—often without any long-term plans to be teachers—is precisely the problem. Anthony Cody's experiences in Oakland corroborated this critique. In a typical cycle, the school would lose about half of its corps members after their second year. By the third year, half of those who had remained after the second year would be gone. The problem, Cody explained, is that many who join Teach for America don't actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone for policy work, law school, or business school. One study found that roughly 57 percent of corps members planned to teach for two years or less when they applied, while only 11 percent intended to make teaching a lifelong career. (TFA has claimed, however, that 36 percent remain in the classroom as teachers. But their recently announced partnership with Goldman Sachs, which provides TFA recruits with jobs at the banking firm after two years of service, doesn't entirely help their cause.)"

And further, Sandra Korn, a senior at Harvard College (as of 2013) and a New Jersey public school graduate, raised her own concerns over the 'training' that corps members receive:

“For one, I am far from ready to enter a classroom on my own. Indeed, in my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically under-prepares its recruits for the reality of teaching. But more importantly, TFA is not only sending young, idealistic, and inexperienced college grads into schools in neighborhoods different from where they're from -- it's also working to destroy the American public education system. As a hopeful future teacher, that is not something I could ever conscionably put my name behind...

“But it has become increasingly clear to anyone who thinks critically about teaching that there's something off with TFA's model. After all, TFA alumni repeatedly describe their stints in the American public education system as some of the hardest two years of their lives. Doesn't it bother you to imagine undertrained 22-year-olds standing in front of an crowded classroom and struggling through every class period? Indeed, most of the critiques of TFA in The Crimson have focused on students' unpreparedness to teach.
“However, unpreparedness pales in comparison to the much larger problem with TFA: It undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing. If TFA intended to place students in schools with insufficient numbers of teachers, it has strayed far from its original goal. As an essay by Chicago teacher Kenzo Shibata asked last summer, ‘Teach For America wanted to help stem a teacher shortage. Why then are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by hundreds of new college graduates?’ Journalist James Cersonsky notes that veteran teachers and schools alike may suffer from this type of reform: ‘Districts pay thousands in fees to TFA for each corps member in addition to their salaries -- at the expense of the existing teacher workforce. Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members.’”
A piece titled “Six Questions for Teach for America” writes the following: http://yinzercation.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/six-questions-for-teach-for-america/
Will TFA hurt our students? TFA corps members sign up for a two-year commitment and then most go on to other careers, contributing to the churn in the lives of students, many of whom are already facing great instabilities. Education historian Diane Ravitch calls TFA, “Teach for Awhile.” About 20-30% of TFA members stay in the classroom 3-5 years, and only 5% are still teaching in their initial placement by the seventh year. [Cloaking Inequality, 10-21-13] Many TFA alumni are now speaking out about their experiences working with some of our neediest students. With only five weeks of training, they say they were ill-prepared to work with troubled kids, could do little more than “teach to the test,” and worry that they really were harming children. [See for example Washington Post 2-28-13; John Bilby; Cloaking Inequality, 9-20-13 and 8-6-13] These are testimonies worth serious attention.
There is so much reading that can be done on TFA. If the college is actually considering letting this organization form on campus, I would only hope, and truly expect, that it has done full research on the impacts of Teach for America in public education; not simply approving it because those who make the decision have some nice connections to Teach for America.
Did you know that there is an organization, Students United for Public Education, that hosted an entire CAMPAIGN against Teach for America?
A little summary of their mission:
“For years, college campuses across the country have been the core recruiting ground for TFA. For many soon-to-be graduates, concerned as they should be with the rampant inequality embedded in American public schools, TFA appears to be an opportunity to make a difference. Using the rhetoric of civil rights and egalitarian politics, TFA promises ambitious college students that their hard work and good intentions are a crucial component of what it will take to fix the crisis within our education system. Yet, as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it. Despite its image as a social justice organization, TFA not only does a disservice to the students and schools it purports to serve, but also acts as a political force in its own right to push a vision of public schooling that further damages an already broken education system (see here for more on this point: http://mskatiesramblings.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-teach-for-americas-push-for.html?m=1)
“Increasingly across the country, students as well as TFA alumni are becoming aware of TFA’s role in perpetuating inequality in our schools. Through this campaign, we hope to unite and strengthen these voices of resistance and organize a powerful movement not only against TFA as a political organization, but also for better solutions and services in high-need, low-income schools.”
Before moving forward, TCNJ should consider the following:
-Teach for America is representative of the privatization of public education in America, and the undermining of public schools and teachers.
-Teach for America, being the “revolving door” of corps members that it is, is a way to keep costs down by hiring people on the lowest step and realizing that they will never collect a pension (most likely) or health benefits in retirement.
- This will be showing people you don't need a degree to be a teacher, which devalues the worth of educators that have studied for degrees
-It's helps move the privatization efforts forward under the guise of "charity type" work. Students are not “charity.”
-It undermines TCNJ’s own access to tuition as people will not get degrees, but rather take take the shortcut
-TCNJ will be seen as not vested in helping future educators out within a network that provides mentoring and support for new teachers, rather encouraging them to take this shortcut
-It will shortchange the support system of college in the future as these recruits tend to go into other fields and will not be furthering their education at TCNJ
-It is extremely disrespectful to professors that have dedicated themselves to fostering the future generation of teachers
-Once Alumni find out, they will be sure to not provide as much in donations.

TCNJ should be smarter than to give into the fake promise of an organization that works hand-in-hand in the privatization of public education. If TCNJ wants to continue to pride itself on being a place that fosters real educational experiences and teachers who, as the website states, “truly possess a commitment to the academic achievement of students in urban schools,” then they will not allow for a toxic organization like Teach for America to form their own organization on campus.
I'm going to do whatever it takes to fight to get their toxic organization off of our campus. We are supposed to be fostering real educators, not resume-padders looking to climb the ladder using students as stepping stones for their own political agendas.
I will conclude with posing these thoughts:
How can an organization like that be allowed on a campus, one that takes away teaching positions from experienced and dedicated professionals? Future teachers are going to be indoctrinated into a system of beliefs around privatization and systematic racism hurting the neediest children and districts. Is this what college is?

TO HELP, PLEASE CONTACT THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE BY EITHER SENDING AN EMAIL OR PLACING A PHONE CALL SAYING “NO TEACH FOR AMERICA AT THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY”
Tim Asher
Director, Student Activities
Advisor, Student Finance Board
230 Brower Student Center

Dr. Jeff Passe 

Dean of School of Education

230 Brower Student Center
2000 Pennington Road
Ewing, NJ 08628
E) passeh@tcnj.edu

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