As a resident and teacher in Baltimore City, I have been paying close attention to the mayoral race, and the debate about DeRay Mckesson’s ability to lead our city is already being derailed by fear mongering about his “TFA agenda.” Recent articles have portrayed DeRay as a union-buster and a proponent of school privatization—all because he taught through Teach For America (TFA).
I, like most citizens in the city, want to choose the best mayor possible. But we won’t get the chance to, if we’re not talking about the things that matter most.
I was a Teach For America Baltimore corps member back in 2009 and have been teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools since then. Teach For America is admittedly imperfect. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone connected with TFA who doesn’t have their own criticisms and opinions about the organization—which is true of all organizations, not just TFA.
Despite the criticisms and challenges, important work and collaboration is still being done. Within the Baltimore Teach For America community, you will find hard working and invested people, who are harnessing their strengths to improve opportunities for students in different ways.
The monolithic “TFA agenda” that is being publicized does not exist. Corps members and alumni do not adhere to a single approach or perspective when it comes to addressing educational inequity. The fact that DeRay was a TFA corps member does not dictate his policy stances, just as it does not determine my own.
It does, however, mean he has experience in the classroom. As a teacher, I value this experience, rather than dismiss him because of it. I’m encouraged that when he is making decisions, he will rely on his experience as a teacher and district administrator to do what is best for students.
It is my hope that others, especially teachers, will not be distracted by unfounded assumptions. DeRay and every candidate should have to prove themselves and their readiness to lead at a time when Baltimore needs exceptional leadership.
Like many voters, I am still unsure of who I’ll cast a ballot for in April, but DeRay’s experiences in education should not be a reason to bar him from the debate or keep him from the task of proving himself to voters. Now that, that would be a missed opportunity for Baltimore.