Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NYC Teach For America Members Under the Radar

EdNotes has been pretty rough on Teach for America over the years and there has been some buzz about bringing local dissident TFAers together for a chat.

Along with Mark Naison, who hosted, I helped get some TFA corps and alumni together for a fascinating meeting last night which was illuminating for Mark and I as the TFAers drilled down into the culture of the organization. In one exercise each participant listed the positive and negative aspects of the organization and we as non-TFAers received some serious insights.

The call for the meeting emerged from the responses to critiques of TFA by Mark and on Ed Notes (see Musings of MAB tab at top of this blog) along with a push within NYCORE to begin to address some of the core issues that disturb so many core members who are not drinking the Kool-aid.

Can a group within TFA gather enough steam to force changes at the top level in the TFA approach? Like longer training periods, an end to data munching as the way to judge success and failure for students and teachers, urging teachers to look beyond their classroom and into the families and broader school community, and encouraging TFAers to remain in teaching and put down roots in one school community as the best way to have a long-term impact?

There was lots more discussed with plans to expand the initial group and meet again. If you know TFA people looking to nudge the organization in another direction, have them contact ed notes.

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.


  1. I know you're probably thinking "let's E$E TFA!" but I think TFA actually welcomes dissent and critical thinking from within.

    Quick note (feel free to delete this comment, I'm not trying to insult you): it's TFA corps, not core.


  2. As an '08 NYC Corps Member, and current teacher, I would generally agree with KS that TFA generally welcomes input and "dissent" from people. I think if one takes a look at how TFA has evolved from its inception until now, adjusting as new information becomes available is at the core of what they do. They may not adjust in ways that everyone agrees with, but they are not as rigid as you imply.

    Further, I would say that TFA encourages its teachers to work a lot with the families and communities of their students. I definitely got that message. Also, anecdotally, I can say that many of the teachers that TFA still reports as being in "Education" 5-6 years down the line are in non-profit jobs that aim to help the social fabric of families in the communities that they worked in. Its hard to say that TFA should focus more on having its teachers put down roots in one school community, without the possibility that those roots might be outside the classroom in a supplementary school or community program.

    Finally, you said that the meeting had TFAers sharing the positive and negative aspects of TFA -- What were the positive aspects that they shared? I hope your readers would be very interested to hear both sides of what they said, rather than just the negative.

  3. I'm so glad to hear that TFA alumni are mobilizing to have their voices heard. I, too, am an alum and have actually worked on the organization's staff for the past five years - in VERY large part because I saw the need for improvement from within.

    I have to admit that it's frustrating to hear from peers that "TFA should do this" or "I'm disappointed that TFA doesn't do that" when WE are the ones who are running the organization. If people have concerns, suggestions, initiatives, pilots, ANYTHING that they want to see changed within Teach For America, they should speak up and be willing to put in the time and effort to make them happen. I know the annual alumni survey is coming out soon, so I'd encourage people who want to "dissent" not to ignore it out of spite, but speak their minds, set up a meeting with the local alumni affairs contact, and help us shift the priorities and ideology of the organization.

    Teach For America - as an organization and a mobilized corps of people - has evolved a great deal over the past 20 years. But only because alumni took the initiative to make it better.

  4. KS - I have no intention to E4E TFA - I sm just facilitating TFA people who want to meet.

    One of the things that came out of the meeting was that TFA only listens to internal dissent to deflect criticism from within - this group does not feel TFA is user friendly to dissenters who want to change direction - they wiil make a few cosmetic changes to deflect criticism.


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