This past weekend I was going through all of my old teaching documents, looking for anything that could help me as I get ready to start the new school year. During my organization effort, I came across a packet of Teach for America Los Angeles prep materials from 2007 for our placement interviews at LA school sites. The list included potential questions that principals might ask, and appropriate responses to them. I especially liked this one:
This is a good answer to that question. Every new teacher, especially corps members with only a summer of teaching experience, should be ready to acknowledge all of the hard work that is already going on, even at schools deemed to be failing. TFA was right in 2007 to tell their corps members to say this, and I hope the material has stayed the same for new corps members today.
This is not how a lot of people understand TFA’s mission. A standard narrative of TFA that has taken hold is that corps members bring youthful energy and creativity to a field populated by veterans with low expectations. Articles like this one about TFA used to be pretty common. In it, the author absurdly claims that prior to receiving their TFA teacher, the students at a school had gone years without having a teacher for consecutive weeks.
When Teach for America places corps members in cities like Chicago that are laying off veterans, they too are implying that their corps members are better than veterans. This is a false narrative, and the organization would be wise to live by the spirit of what they told me to say in my interview. As long as they can continue placing corps members only in areas with a high need for teachers, and emphasizing their supporting role in helping the work already being done by veterans, they can still be a force for good.