Whenever I meet young people who have joined Teach for America, I am always impressed by their idealism and enthusiasm.
As readers of this blog know, I am not as impressed with the organization, TFA, which is filled with hubris, self-promotion, and ambition. No amount of money ever seems to be enough, as this organization grows and grows and collects hundreds of millions of dollars from foundations and corporations (no matter how rightwing they may be), and paints itself as the saviour of American education from those “others,” the veteran teachers. Periodically I learn that TFA is out shaking cans to raise nickels and dimes in grocery stores or ATMs and I get angry all over again. It seems that their business plan is to get richer and richer, while sending out these terrific young kids to staff the classes of the nation’s most disadvantaged children for two years, then move on.
So, that’s my dilemmas, love the kids, don’t love the organization.
I just read an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times that reminded me of why I love these kids. This young man, Jared Billings, is a TFA teacher who decided to stay. He says that TFA should require a commitment of four-five years, not two. He is right. No one is a great teacher in their first year, and precious few are effective in their second. TFA has resisted this because they would get fewer applicants. But that’s the kind of commitment that would turn TFA into an organization that was dedicated to helping the schools, not itself.