This is it. I have had enough.
I was about to say the other day that it had been almost a month without a blog post describing Teach For America as the Evil Empire, responsible for all that is currently wrong with our Educational System. Then I ran into a new twitter hashtag #resistTFA and I realized it was not about to stop…
Let me clarify a few things before I go any further:
- I am not a TFA teacher. I am actually French and was formally trained as a Math teacher back home. At the age of 23, I started my career in a high poverty school in the South of France. We don’t have TFA back home (or should I say TFF) and yet our teachers with no experience still have to go learn the job in the most challenging schools, primarily because it is hard to find enough experienced teachers willing to teach there.
- I am fully aware of the multiple points made by #resistTFA. These include the fact that TFA corps members, while well coached and supported, do not have the same training as teachers going through schools of education or that the statistics show that they don’t stay long enough in the classroom. I agree — I wish they stayed more and it is rough to start teaching after 6 weeks of a summer institute.
- I work in a school where I coach and support several young and talented TFA teachers and my Principal is a TFA alum. Absolutely nobody asked me to write this post. It is simply the result of years of frustration, hearing the same rhetoric over and over.
I know that I am not the first one to say this but I just felt like writing it today: There is nothing worse in a Society than the constant search of scapegoats to hide our lack of courage in addressing crucial issues. This is what we spend most of our time doing when we choose to unleash our anger at TFA because we feel like our profession is being undervalued.
The real issue is the lack of consideration for teaching and this goes way back, way before the creation of Teach For America. Try an experiment tonight to see if I am wrong: pick any decent 80s high school comedy available on Netflix streaming (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller..) and see if you can find any teacher or administrator not portrayed as a loser making an almost comical salary. Because when I am talking about respect, I am also talking about a decent remuneration and opportunities to advance in a career. Was TFA around back then to inspire John Hughes?It wasn’t, of course, but it is much harder to talk about the fact that we don’t respect teaching as a Society. Actually we mostly respect it in words but absolutely not with our actions (how often do we hear at parties: “I think teachers should make so much more than they do”?)
So let’s speak the truth for a second. Here, right now in North Carolina, take away Teach For America, and we will have a real recruitment issue in a lot of our schools. People using the narrative of TFA teachers driving other teachers out of the classroom are in serious need of a reality check, at least here in the South. Why? Because, teaching is incredibly hard. It can be extremely rewarding, which is why I have been doing it passionately for 15 years, but it can also punch you in the stomach and leave you having to step outside of your classroom for a few minutes…or more. This is true in any school on any day. Finding people who want to commit 12-14 hours a day to do this while being paid $35,000 (or less) is becoming increasingly difficult.
That is the root of the issue but who really wants to tackle it? It seems a bit easier to target young TFA teachers…
So, yes I wish more of our TFA teachers would want to stay longer in the classroom (and a lot of them do) but what makes them want to leave after 2 or 3 years is often the same thing that makes NC teachers talk about leaving the State or the classroom: they don’t see the way up and they often leave devastated.
Meanwhile, as multiple bloggers have found the “courage” to explain why they chose not to become a Teach For America teacher, our Ranson IB TFAers are here every morning at 7am and are up planning until midnight. They have made the choice to spend several years of their life giving their sweat, tears and blood to our students desperately in need of excellent teaching. When they leave, it is often to continue to have an impact on the learning of our students directly or indirectly. It breaks my heart every day that they have to do this while feeling almost ashamed to have made the choice they made. They all deserve our respect for joining this fight while others sit on the sideline.
So please, I beg you, let’s take a break from scapegoating and blaming Teach For America for all that is wrong with our Educational System. Instead, let’s roll up our sleeves and come up with solutions for our teaching profession. Ask yourself for a second: What are you doing to bring a positive change? If TFA ceased to exist tomorrow, what would you do to attract and retain talent to our schools? Many of us are out there every day teaching our kids while trying to improve our profession. This blog is a journal of our adventures with the Opportunity Culture model, a different ladder of opportunities in our schools to prevent the best from leaving and to give more pride and respect to the teachers who stay. We do not pretend it will solve all our problems but at least we dare to try something new. What if all of us put our brains together and did just that? In the words of my dear friend, and inspiring TFA teacher, Kayla Romero: “I am, you are, we are the revolution!”