Five Reasons We Did Not Choose Teach for America

The impetus for this and the following post came from a conversation with one of my pre-service teachers. She expressed her frustration with having what she was doing as a Master of Arts in Teaching candidate de-valued by Teach for America on our campus. Disclaimer: some of the best people I know in education have entered the profession through TFA and remain in education, so this is not an indictment of all things TFA. These students’ response has its roots in being marginalized for investing time and resources in preparation.

The blog that follows lays out their reasons for not choosing TFA even though they have been recruited through their major departments (math and physics). Their second post will explain why they chose the MAT. They are not defending all teacher preparation programs nor are they demeaning their peers who joined TFA. They are offering reasons for their choice to be as well prepared as possible for their future students.

This is a guest post from Megan Thornton and Derrick Rohl, two of my pre-service teachers at Wheaton College. (Check out their follow-up post, too.)
Last semester, a TFA recruiter came to Wheaton College igniting a conversation among our friends and peers. While many of our friends were electrified at thought of engaging in such a noble task, we wanted our peers to hear why we chose a different path to that noble task. As MAT candidates in math (Megan) and physics (Derrick), we will spend over 40 additional course hours beyond our bachelor’s degrees and over 500 hours in clinical placements before we become teachers of record.

1. Teachers need more than five weeks of training.

TFA sends corps members into schools after five weeks of training. We knew that would not be enough. The TFA five-week crash course barely begins to scratch the surface on all that goes into teaching.  The TFA program serves low-performing schools with at-risk populations; shouldn’t their teachers have even more preparation?

2. A career lasts more than two years. We are in this for the long haul.

TFA only requires a two-year commitment of its corps members. The lack of preparation combined with high-needs schools is a sure-fire model for burnout. Many corps members spend two years, leave exhausted, and move on to their “real” careers, if they even stay their full term.

3. They’re students, not guinea pigs.

First year corps members are thrown into classrooms. They practice, make mistakes, and refine their skills with real students. We will make mistakes, too, but by the time we are teachers of record, we will have spent years in schools as a part of practica embedded in coursework. In these experiences, a cooperating teacher is always present to ensure strong educational practices for their students. Rather than learn under a cooperating teacher, TFA corps members take charge of their own classroom with limited pedagogical understanding.

4. Does having surgery make you a qualified doctor?

No one would trust a doctor who didn’t go to med school; why would we trust teachers who weren’t prepared? In fact, only in education would this kind of attitude be tolerated. We didn’t buy the we-can-teach-because-we-were-once-students proposition. This stance marginalizes the profession of teaching and suggests it’s okay to allow unprepared teachers to attempt to educate students.

5. We care more about our students than our résumés.

TFA is populated by well-meaning college grads ready to change the world. The TFA model is predicated on this hubris. The theory of action is that if you are one of the “best and brightest,” minimal training is all you need to begin as a teacher of record. This hubris can lead to arrogant assumptions about ways to improve the education system. What is more troubling is that some of our peers have joined TFA as a résumé builder. While TFA corps members are busy building up their résumés, we hope to build careers investing in our students.

Why did we choose our MAT program? We explain here.

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