Quick Thoughts on #TFA25

There are a lot of people I respect who came to teaching through Teach for America. As a NYC Teaching Fellow, TFA indirectly made my career possible too. That said, the narrative TFA is pushing at #TFA25 just strikes me as dishonest.

As an outsider to the organization, to me they have appeared very resistant to criticism. And there's been a lot of it. Yet, their public comments and private behavior (described to me by TFA alum) strike me as defensive, sometimes petty, and unbecoming of an organization publicly committed to organizational learning in service of educational equity.
Their recent focus on equity, diversity and radical change seems driven by PR as much or more than the result of meaningful reflection. There are many Corps members, especially Corps members of color, whose critiques were dismissed, and who were downright bullied when they were members of TFA. 

The organization tries to present itself as committed to constant learning and feedback. But I have heard several stories of Corps Members who were pulled aside for “1 on 1s” after voicing criticism at professional development meetings or through surveys. Rather than responding to the feedback, these individuals were reprimanded and their commitment to the cause was questioned.

I myself spent a year working inside a non-profit lead primarily by TFA alumni and the culture strongly reflected that influence. I left with a sense of the top down, results driven style of TFA. This approach left little room for honest conversation nor work life balance. Similar to TFA, this organization expected unrelenting commitment to the mission. Anything less was a sign of weakness or poor dedication.
 (Image from @MrDavidJohns)
Criticisms of TFA’s mission, organizational culture, and lack of cultural competency have been around since it’s inception. But now TFA is trying to say they've always been "down".
I’m not saying TFA hasn’t changed or improved. But I don’t hear them publicly acknowledging mistakes were made. And I’m not talking about little mistakes. I’m talking about mistakes that had life altering effects on the young Black and brown kids TFA set out to “save” as well as the young, idealistic adults who were promised they’d make a difference. The emotional well being of these children and the young adults tasked with teaching them were often secondary to the superhero narrative they were trying to push.

If you're a friend of mine who’s TFA alum, I still have nothing but love for you. My personal journey in education has taken a lot of twists and wrong turns. But I hope you’ll also keep one eye open. Because underneath all that glamor and prestige I see an organization that stubbornly refuses to be honest about its mistakes. 

I'm excited to hear TFA speak up on topics like teacher diversity and systemic racism. But they should acknowledge these shifts are recent, and the result of painful and hard fought battles. Otherwise it's just talk, not transformational change.


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