It is increasingly difficult to have a conversation or civil debate with members of the Badass Teachers Association, or at least those who actively engage on Twitter about Teach For America (TFA). Despite being a former teacher (albeit not through TFA) and a mother, my opinions about the organization are dismissed.
Last night, I was even accused of “pimping” for TFA.
— Sahila ChangeBringer (@Kiwigirl58) September 28, 2015
It’s not that I take these slights personally. I don’t.
But it is disconcerting to see educators who teach listening, tolerance and critical thinking behave this way in a public space on every topic about which there are opposing views.
My early years as a high school teacher from 1998-2002 were in an affluent district in Massachusetts, so Teach For America wasn’t even on my radar. The schools where I subsequently taught in California were not comprised of more than 50 percent low-income students, thus I didn’t have any TFA colleagues there either.
I did, however, learn of the program there because a beloved English teacher had begun her career through Teach For America in Washington, D.C. After her initial two-year commitment, she returned to her hometown in California and taught for over a decade at her alma mater before moving into the roles of assistant principal and, now, principal of the same school.
After moving to Rhode Island, having three children and finally returning to the classroom, I became personally connected to TFA because one of my colleagues was a 2011 corps member. The job was sometimes hard and overwhelming for the both of us. Sure, I was a veteran and she was a newbie, but the day-to-day challenges of working in a high-poverty school were present for everyone in the building. Her knowledge of math and how to break it down for the students who struggled the most was exceptional and today, in her fourth year of teaching at the same school, she continues to be a lifeline for the students who need extra help.
And she wasn’t only my colleague. She became my friend.
She was the first of about 20 TFA teachers I worked with over the years and none have embodied the ugly things that the Badass Teachers say about them or about Teach For America in general. They were all hardworking, smart and focused on student learning. All but two remain working at schools. Some are pursuing advanced education degrees while teaching, others are coaching school teams while teaching and many have emerged as leaders in their school.
Their experience as new teachers seemed to mirror the experience of the countless other new teachers I’ve known over the years who have come out of more traditional teacher preparation programs. Some parts of the job came easily, while other parts were a daily challenge.
TFA made its way further into my heart when my own children were taught by corps members. Because we’ve enrolled our children in an intentionally diverse school that serves two urban and two suburban districts, the percentage of low-income students is high enough to qualify it as a TFA teacher placement site. Though a majority of their teachers have come out of traditional prep programs, a few have come out of TFA and I wouldn’t trade the experience with them for anything. The years my sons had with them were filled with so much learning and fun, as well as a remarkable dedication to my boys and to our family.
All of the TFA teachers we’ve had stayed on past their two-year commitments and it is still an absolute pleasure to see them at school events.
My sons’ principal started in Teach For America, too. He was a special education teacher in Arizona and has since returned to his home state of Rhode Island to run a school that serves four districts, including the one he attended growing up. I’m positive that his years in TFA played an integral role in shaping him as the leader of a highly diverse regional school where kids’ needs vary so greatly.
I’m perplexed as to why none of my experiences matter to the Badass Teachers.
As with any organization or group of educators, TFA isn’t perfect. But as a colleague, a parent and a friend of former corps members, I can confidently say that they are doing great work, often in places where no one else wants to do it.
Stand with them. Or at least let them be. But please don’t tear down the people who, like all the non-TFA teachers out there, are doing great and important things for kids and families.