All that is wrong with Teach for America as told by a Teach for America alumnus

The Times Union printed an op ed from a former Teach for America alumnus where he went on and on making some dubious and self serving point while completely ignoring many legitimate concerns about the program. Here is a snippet.


From the Times Union:

For clarity, Teach For America is an organization that places mostly recent, high achieving college graduates in a low-income school district under a two-year contract to teach.
I read that TFA takes teaching positions from more experienced teachers.
I read about the high turnover rate of the TFA teachers.
I read articles questioning the effectiveness of TFA teachers.
While I understand these criticisms and thought long and hard about whether I should accept the position in Jacksonville, I would contend now after my two-year experience that TFA is massively undervalued and has an unwarranted negative public image.
teach for america has an impact
The first criticism mentioned was that TFA takes teaching positions away from more experienced teachers.
In Duval County alone, the school district had over 200 vacancies as of February 2017. Those vacant rooms will likely be filled by a cast of rotating substitute teachers where learning is certain to be challenging, often through no fault of the specific substitute.
Every TFA teacher who enters a city for their first year undoubtedly gets hired because of the vast amount of shortages, particularly in the math and science departments.
At my placement school, Jefferson Davis Middle School, over 40 percent of the newly hired staff in the past five years have been TFA corps members.
Another criticism leveled at TFA is the high turnover rate for corps members. They may leave after their two-year commitment to attend graduate school or pursue other interests.
This criticism is not only unfair, but it is also wrong. Over 60 percent of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment, which is a lower turnover rate than for non-TFA teachers at the same schools.
The Duval County School Board has cut the Teach For America budget. The board cited the turnover rate as a contributing factor that led to the decision to cut TFA and focus on marketing to attract new teachers.
I came to Jacksonville in 2015 as one of 120 corps members. Sixty percent or about 72 of us are still teaching in these high poverty schools in Duval County. Of the remaining 48, many are still supporting education through policy, law, in administration or as Teach For America staff.
Regarding TFA teacher performance, a Columbia University study in Duval County shows that students with TFA teachers demonstrated additional growth in mathematics learning compared to the students of other novice teachers.
I could debate each and every one of those points and I have many times but what I think seals the deal is the following, also part of the op ed from the Times Union.
• Ben Kerns is a former Teach for America instructor in Duval County.
• He lives in Atlanta.
WTF!!!! This guy did his two years and left. If its such a great program and it does so much good, then why is this guy living in Atlanta now?
The chutzpah of this guy! And the ridiculousness of the Times Union printing a piece from a guy who quit and moved away after just two years. Both are mind boggling. 
Here is the bottom line, TFA is an expensive program that does the exact opposite of what we know our most vulnerable children need and any district that is serious about educating children should be striving to put professional educators or people that will spend more than two years while waiting for grad school to start, in our schools and classrooms. Thank goodness the district finally came to its senses and is finally phasing it out. 
One last thing, when anybody steps into the classroom I think they deserve respect. I like TFA members am not an education major, though unlike them I didn’t get 10,000 dollars in loan forgiveness and have been in the classroom 17 years, it’s this terrible and expensive program I am against.  

4 Replies to “All that is wrong with Teach for America as told by a Teach for America alumnus”

  1. With the current high teacher shortage, the State of Florida needs to change the requirements to teach in the classroom. The basic requirement should be to allow those with a degree from any University in the the State of Florida to begin teaching in the classroom. Do away with the General Knowledge Test, the Professional Education Test, and the Florida Educational Leadership Examination. The only test that should remain is the Subject Area Examinations. If you want to teach English, then take the Subject Area Exam in English to prove you know the rules of English Grammar. And that should be it! A college degree and one exam.

  2. Is that why I can't get hired in Duval County? All the open positions (there are 5 pages of vacancies)are filled with Teach for America personnel. With 18 yrs in Special Ed., I presumed some Principal would appreciate my experience and expertise. Good to know. DCPS and Florida needs to get its proverbial, "Head out of their Butt" It is really sad what has happened to education and the teaching profession.

  3. DCPS is ending their relationship with TFA. Powers that be in Jacksonville are pushing back, thus the dreary, repeating pattern of dragging a sycophant out of the shadows to write a puff piece. Surprised the T-U ran it? the only newspaper in the country to run an endorsement of Trump because the owners violated the independence of the editorial board? I sent in my response, it matched the guest column in length but I couldn't reduce the words, and the T-U did not run it.

    Now for Mr. Wilson. You really think content knowledge is all that's needed for the classroom? I'd like to see you give it a try. Knowing the rules of grammar won't help you when you don't understand the developmental stage of the children you are trying to teach and they are tearing the room apart. It takes much, much more.

  4. Dear Mr. Guerrieri,

    When writing about my experience with Teach For America, I did so for my own reflection. After writing I decided to send it out in order to hear counterpoints and reflect further. Thank you for reading and sharing your opinion.

    While I certainly would like to respond to your post in more depth, adults rarely succeed in changing someone's opinion through blog and social media posts. While no counterpoint or argument against TFA can hurt my feelings, I admit being referred to as self-serving sort of does. That being said, I know my family, my colleagues, and most importantly my students did not have the same viewpoint and while it is unfortunate I had to leave Jacksonville, I know I can take that with me. I thank you for your continued service to our students.

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