Teach for America is coming to my hometown. Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, they will be bringing in a small group of about 30 corps members to test the waters and see if they can develop a good working presence in San Diego. I was initially wary when I learned the news. San Diego Unified School District has maintained a skeptical stance towards Teach for America for years, and I’ve applauded the district in which I received my own schooling for not accepting TFA’s grandiose claims at face value. Nevertheless, the district’s opposition to TFA has finally broken.
Much of my skepticism turned to optimism when I had the chance this weekend to meet the new executive director for TFA San Diego. Over breakfast, we discussed my trajectory with TFA and education, and his reasons for wanting to bring TFA to this city. HE is a San Diego native who attended San Diego Unified schools, and knows that teachers have been doing amazing work here for years to help all students achieve academically, long before any suggestion of TFA coming in. Acknowledging that TFA as an organization has made many missteps, he expressed his vision that TFA San Diego would be a partner with the community rather than an outside force claiming to know better how to serve low income students than the teachers and schools already here. He spoke approvingly of Dr. Camika Royal’s speech to incoming corps members in Philadelphia where she warned them against thinking of them as outside saviors bringing light to the city. “The light is already here,” she said in her speech. “Walk in it.” Coming from the 2007 corps, when TFA was at the height of its hubris, hearing this sentiment from a TFA executive director heartened me.
Last night I attended a lecture by Diane Ravitch at Kearny High School and took the time during the Q and A to ask her if she felt that the organization was turning a page and showing more humility in general. Although she expressed strong skepticism during her answer, I talked to her for a bit after the lecture and told her about my positive experience with TFA San Diego’s executive director and his vision for the corps members coming into San Diego. Cindy Marten, the incoming superintendent of San Diego Unified joined us for the discussion and seconded my positive impression. She shared with me her unease at TFA’s role in the education reform movement, but said that she thought the new director was returning to the roots of the organization: recruiting passionate young teachers to work towards educational equity- minus the political baggage of the ed-reform movement.
Ravitch seemed pleased about the possibility of a TFA more integrated with the community, but remained unconvinced by what she saw as TFA’s central problem: the placement in schools of teachers without sufficient training. I grapple with this issue myself, and know that my own lack of training contributed to many of my first-year failures. Nevertheless, in an environment where all first year teachers face a lack of effective preparation, whether traditionally or alternatively credentialed, I can’t oppose the arrival of thirty passionate new advocates for students into San Diego’s schools. I want TFA San Diego to have a chance to change the way TFA interacts with the communities it serves. If I can support the incoming corps members in any way, even just by being able to tell them that I went through hard teaching times myself and understand the challenge that they are about to take on, I will. TFA is coming to town and I wish it well.