I have vivid memories of teachers joining my school communities and then saying goodbye to them only a few years later. As a young girl, I always wondered why our teachers kept leaving, but never really gave it too much thought. Instead, my classmates and I would just welcome the new teachers into our school the following year and hope that this time it would be different.
When the time came for me to decide what impact I would have on my community after graduating from college, it was clear to me that teaching was an area where my perspective and drive was needed the most. Seeing teachers come and go definitely deepened my own commitment to teaching in my community.
At the time, the students in my community were facing a number of obstacles. Our district graduated seniors who were not equipped for the post-secondary world, we were facing a drastic teacher shortage and schools were filled with fewer and fewer teachers who mirrored the identities of our students. I wanted to make a difference for the kids in my community, so I decided to join Teach For America (TFA) as a secure way to earn my teaching credential and enter the classroom.
I passed the exams and completed the training and requirements asked of me, and earned my credential to teach secondary English to brilliant students in Richmond, California. Over the last few months, as my two years in the corps were coming to an end, my peers began sharing their summer plans, as well as their plans around leaving the classroom.
I immediately felt a huge discomfort, and after reflecting on why, I was reminded of the way I felt when my own teachers seemed to walk through a revolving door, in and out of my school. I found inspiration in my TFA peers who, like me, are from the community in which we teach, and also hold a deep commitment to staying within our community as teachers, or in other education-related roles that benefit the same students and young people.
Teach For America Makes an Impact
Teach For America has recently been the target of considerable criticism from the media, legislative bodies and even teachers in the districts where we teach. Within California, AB 221 aims to ban “inexperienced” teachers, teachers like those within TFA, from teaching in “predominantly low-income schools,” according to an Ed Source article published on the bill. Christina Garcia, the former teacher and author of the bill, argues that the reasoning behind the bill is that as soon as teachers reach proficiency in year two or three, they leave the school and a new, inexperienced teacher takes their place.
Garcia and other critics of Teach For America need to realize that teachers are not signing up to teach in our districts by the numbers. We are facing a real and challenging teacher shortage and TFA teachers are there to ensure that students receive a quality education.
A recent article emphasized that Teach For America is one of the largest providers of teachers and stressed the fact that these teachers are well prepared and perform on par with their peers in the profession. Some of my most memorable teachers had been a part of TFA and I associated the program with the great education they provided for me and my peers during my time in school.
The reality is that becoming a teacher would not have been realistic for me had it not been for Teach For America. And I am choosing to continue teaching after my two-year TFA commitment because I am invested in my students and my community. I plan to innovate my practice in order to prepare my students for their post-secondary journeys.
While it has been challenging to witness my colleagues leave my community and explore new endeavors, I am glad that they will have the perspective gained from their work in the classroom to guide their leadership elsewhere. The current state of education suggests that I will have many colleagues come and go along the way, but pitting teachers against teachers does not further academic outcomes. Creating collaborative cultures where teachers mentor and support one another can.