Teach for America loves to sugarcoat the first year. Rather than a realistic portrayal of the challenges that face new corps members, TFA has consistently opted for positive propaganda over reality. Since reading the blog posts of new corps members entering the corps this year, it has become clear to me that this hasn’t yet changed. I was inspired to write today by the recent post of Jacksonville Journey, who says that at institute she has been assigned to teach math even though she will teach social studies in the fall, and that the institute staff has told her that the planning for both subjects will be the same: http://jaxjourney.teachforus.org/2012/07/04/hard-feelings/. No two subjects are quite the same, and the reason that secondary schools require different credentials for different subjects is that the teaching methods are indeed different.
Today, I offer a quick chronological list of some times I was fed propaganda as a corps member:
1. The pre-institute reading, Ms. Lora’s Story, taught me that veteran teachers hold low expectations for students and that with my drive and dedication I would be able to get 100% of my students to grade level in one year. Veteran teachers ended up helping me maintain what little sanity I had left that year, and I found myself completely unprepared for even the task of helping students make incremental progress, much less transformational change.
2. At institute, the staff told us that our presence was benefiting the students. They told us that we were already closing the achievement gap with our summer school students. A staff member later admitted in a private moment of candor that the summer school students were indeed guinea pigs, but that it didn’t matter because the experience we got would benefit even more students come fall. Unfortunately, the limited experience of institute did not prepare many of use for our students in the fall either.
3. At institute, the staff told us that institute would prepare us for being in the classroom. Institute resembled my actual classroom in almost no way.
4. When things were going badly, my Program Director, who had only just finished her two year commitment, told me that I needed to “be really proactive and make the choice to succeed.” I wonder what choice she imagined I had made instead?
5. Throughout the year, TFA staffers advised us to maintain our “internal locus of control,” meaning that we should never lose sight of the fact that we had control over most things that went wrong. As a struggling first year teacher, this caused me to internalize every failure and push me into unhealthy self-hatred when I could not get my classroom on track.
6. When I decided to leave TFA for my own health and sanity, but to finish out the year so as not to abandon my students midyear, one of the higher ups at TFA Los Angeles told me that I needed to reflect on how my actions affected other people besides myself. Apparently, only self-centered corps members quit.
TFA is far too wrapped up in its own rhetoric, and I feel like many of the people who work for them are people who had decent first years and simply don’t relate to the many corps members who struggle. Without more honestly, they’ll be setting up many more corps members for a first year just like I had.