Correspondence with my “Thought Partner”

Hi [TFA Recruiter], thanks for offering yourself as a thought partner. Here is my honest line of thinking, though I am also looking forward to speaking with [Other TFA Recruiter] soon as well.

I am interested in teaching long-term, as a career. TFA is one among many entry programs to which I have applied. While I am genuinely excited to have been accepted to TFA, I am in the nice position of having a choice between TFA and these other programs, some of which include built-in masters programs and classroom residency time in the training process.

My direct concern with TFA is that, even though the preparation is much faster, it seems consequently much less effective. I am not interested in teaching for two years and leaving, so a year-long preparation program (as some of the other programs offer) is not of major concern. Why should I choose TFA over a program with more rigorous preparation, if I have a long-term commitment to education?

More broadly, I have done quite a bit of analysis (I am, after all, a research engineer) on TFA from the data available, and have arrived at some serious concerns about the organization in general.

For example, how would you justify TFA’s expansion into regions in which, due to the recession, there is apparently a surplus of already-qualified teachers? When I applied to TFA, I assumed that I would be placed into schools for which no qualified personnel are available; in analyzing the contracts you have with Washington, California, and Massachusetts as examples, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Another serious concern is what appears from your own documents to be what is in my opinion an over-reliance on quantitative data. Again, I am a research engineer, I *love* data – it takes me to my happy nerd place. But I also understand the limitations of data, and the importance of human factors. When we screen applicants to NASA, the quantitative elements of the applicant’s portfolio (grades, test scores, etc) are used for cutting off a minimum threshold only; 60 years of doing the hardest science and engineering imaginable has led us firmly to the conclusion that of far greater importance is creativity, judgement, analytical skill, and critical thinking. We don’t care as much about what they know as we do about how they approach what they *don’t* know. What does TFA believe about these factors, and how are those values built into the way you assess CMs and teach them how to teach students?

Of more general concern are the following:
What is the relationship between TFA CMs and traditional teachers? How do you respond to the (often highly vitriolic) accusations that TFA is displacing qualified, experienced teachers in favor of less expensive, less-well-trained, temporary teachers? What is the difference between a two-year CM and a long-term substitute? Are these issues different for the specific case of math/science, and/or the Bay Area?

Thanks for your time and support. I haven’t decided against accepting the TFA position by any means, but these are the questions I am pondering.

Thanks,
Nalin.



  • After my initial acceptance to the Bay Area Corps for secondary mathematics, I started getting bombarded by emails and calls from various staff. There was the recruiter with whom I had been corresponding throughout the admissions process of course (my “thought partner”, as she termed herself), but also a manager of Corps Communication and Partnerships, an alumna of TFA now assigned to recruitment/admissions, the director of the STEM Initiative, and the manager of leadership development for the Bay Area Corps.

    I was able to get ahold of my Thought Partner by phone, and she was very pleasant, forthright, and helpful. I actually really enjoyed talking to her, despite my ultimate conclusion about TFA as an organzation. Here is a paraphrase of her responses to the above.

    –> Why should I choose TFA over a program with more rigorous preparation, if I have a long-term commitment to education?

    No good answer on this one. Her major points were that TFA offers ongoing mentoring and support while in the classroom, that its possible to get your Masters (on my own time and dime) through partnership programs, and that the process is very cost and time efficient to me since I’m getting my teaching done and masters out of the way at the same time, and have the support of AmeriCorps grants. BTR has all of these elements, except they actually integrate the M.Ed. into the program at no effective cost to the resident, and moreover make sure you have a year of rigorous training *before* being thrown into learning on other people’s children.

    –> How would you justify TFA’s expansion into regions in which, due to the recession, there is apparently a surplus of already-qualified teachers?

    Partial sidestep by saying that most TFA CM’s are being placed into charter schools and are therefore apparently not displacing normal public school teachers. In the first place, I find this disingenuous because expanding the charter system on the whole is I think having an overall negative effect on education in general. If you are replacing what should be public schools by bypassing long-standing professional teachers for a cheaper option staffed by temps who teach to the test and allow private corporations to make money off of it, I think it’s safe to say that you are hurting the profession. I understand that there are exceptional charters and that unions/bureaucracy need serious reform, but the general point stands I think, and that’s enough without going into a whole new post here.

    –> What does TFA believe about [teaching to the test, etc], and how are those values built into the way you assess CMs and teach them how to teach students?

    Not discussed.

    –> Are these issues different for the specific case of math/science, and/or the Bay Area?

    The answer boiled down to something along the lines of “we really need STEM teachers everywhere”. Very true, but the manner in which it is being provided by this organization disquiets me. Could I justify using a questionable organization with the intent of getting myself into a position in which I could hopefully do a lot of good? I didn’t like the ethical tradeoff.

    No email or phone responses from any staff after this conversation.


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