Saturday, October 25, 2014

TFA vs. Harvard Students

Valerie Strauss reports an exchange between the TFA mother ship and members of the Harvard chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops. Strauss presents the letters from this back-and-forth in their entirety, and you should click on over there and read them. It's worth noting that both sides are extraordinarily polite and civil. But I want to highlight just a couple of details from the TFA missives.

In reply to the USAS charge that TFA no longer follows its original mission of relieving a teacher shortage:

To your question about shortages, our program exists to meet local demand for teachers and long-term education leaders. In many of our partner districts, this demand stems from a severe shortage of available candidates for low-income schools generally. In others, the shortages are specific to certain subject areas or grade levels. In some, we serve as an additional source of teaching talent for principals to choose from.[Emphasis mine]

So, note that the program has as its stated purpose creating long-term education leaders. The teaching thing is just a training program for future edubosses, edupreneurs, and edubureaucrats.

The TFA writer also notes that TFA only applies for open positions, which is probably wise because back when I was job-hunting, I found that applying for occupied positions wasn't very helpful. The writer does not make any particular distinction about how those positions became open (say, through mass firings instituted so that the position could be filled with TFA members). And then we revisit the point made above:

We believe that students are best served when principals have access to the most robust possible talent pipeline – whether through our program, other alternative certification routes, or the schools of education that continue to prepare the vast majority of our nation’s teachers. We aim to be one small part of a well-trained, supported and celebrated national teaching force.

So-- it's not that there's a teacher shortage, or even (per the newest iteration of TFA) a teacher of color shortage. It's that principals need more choices, because what's coming through the traditional pipeline just isn't good enough. It's as straightforward a TFA statement as I've ever seen saying, "We fully intend to beat out new teacher school graduates for these jobs. You don't need us because there are too few teachers. You need us because there are two few teachers who are as awesome as we are."

After a USAS response, the next TFA letter comes from co-chief Matt Kramer. Kramer offers this interesting statistic:

Compared to first year teachers in general, they [TFA bodies] are more likely to teach a second year.

Not clear how he figures this one. While the USAS letters come with footnotes for their allegations. Kramer just says stuff. He also addresses the TFA Just Passing Through criticism by saying that the problems of education are larger than a classroom teacher can fix so he deplores the idea of judging any teacher based on student test results. Ha! Just kidding. He says that since these problems are too big for classroom teachers, many TFAers do education the favor of becoming "principals, community activists, district administrators, policy makers, elected officials and parent advocates." Thanks, guys!

The whole thing is an eye-opening exchange, particularly in the ways USAS find to say gently, firmly and politely, "You are full of it. Here are the facts. Stop lying." But totally civilly and respectfully. I could probably learn a lesson or two from them.


  1. No, Peter, keep using your same voice.

  2. I met personally a guy a "person of color" (pet peeve term) from Chicago who was teaching English in Vietnam because he had been laid off. Besides, you know how other professions fix shortages mo money and better treatment. I have never seen a topic that invites more know-nothings than education to opine. Bill Gate$, Mark $uckerburg, ...Dont let them shame you into letting foriegners take your jobs in name of "mulriculturalism" either. The only solution is challenge these loud mouths into teaching a month in a class or STFU.