Mr. Parello Sensei

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 15 2012

TFA Staff: The Disconnect from Life in the Trenches

On my list of books that have defined the way I think about education, Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” is high up.  She effectively eviscerates No Child Left Behind and the movement to base teacher evaluations and compensation on student test scores.  It was therefore no small joy for me to see that she had tweeted my blog post about TFA censorship after Gary Rubinstein (who also writes on Teach For Us) passed it on to her.

I received an email today from the TFA recruitment director who had booted me from the Facebook page, and he apologized very sincerely for the censorship.  He also admitted that my point of view was indeed a valuable contribution and that he could tell that I was passionate about helping new CMs.  I appreciated it a lot.  The people who I’ve encountered who work for and with TFA are by and large very good people who are dedicated to educational equality.  Nevertheless, in their institutional roles, I’ve encountered multiple incidents where people who work for TFA are quick to squash any idea that doesn’t match the approved narrative from on high, even when in private they admit that things aren’t always rosy.

When I was struggling through the worst part of my first year, I stopped going to work for one week to attend therapy.  I told one of the TFA LA staff members that I was quitting, but thanks to some very supportive colleagues, I chose to come back to work, even though I considered it likely that I would still leave once I had finished out the school year.  Her response was that I needed to think about how my actions were affecting other people and not think about only myself.  Her tone suggested that it was unfathomable that a corps member would want to quit for any reason besides their own selfishness.  I confronted her in a pointed email, and when we talked on the phone later she was much more conciliatory and admitted that my problems stemmed from far more than me only thinking about myself over others.

TFA staff members were once teachers themselves, and most know somewhere within themselves that the reality of teaching in high-poverty schools is a bit more complex than the approved TFA  narrative.  Yet in their institutional roles, they seem to collectively forget it.  Why the disconnect?