The Commercial Appeal in Memphis
reported on the 10-year anniversary of Teach For America (TFA) in Memphis. It was fascinating to see how the demographics of TFA Memphis has changed for the better over the past decade. What started out as mostly White teachers from outside Memphis has turned into a corps with more teachers of color and more teachers from Memphis.
“There were five people of color in the entire corps,” Turner, a member of that first local group, said. “Nobody from Memphis. In fact I think I might have been the only one in the corps who preferred to come to Memphis.” This year’s incoming cohort has 138 teachers. A quarter are from Memphis. More than half are people of color, and half come from low-income backgrounds.
Compared to 10 years ago, more TFA teachers are staying in Memphis and many of those are still teaching. As a teacher who entered the teaching profession through a university's nontraditional teaching program, I believe that TFA is a great way for mid-career professionals to come into the teaching profession with a great support network. In my experience, those support networks are not in place in some teaching colleges in Tennessee that offer transitional teaching programs.
Of the first cohort 10 years ago, 25 percent of the teachers remained in Memphis after their two-year commitment. The cohort that just wrapped its second year in schools this spring has 70 percent staying locally. Of those who are staying, 90 percent are still teaching, Turner said. Corps members are also no longer nearly exclusively just out of college. Ten years ago, all but six were recruited their senior year of college. This year, 38 percent are just like Cassell — mid-career professionals looking for a change.
What’s great is that there are 250 TFA alumni in Memphis currently teaching and another 150 TFA alumni are still living and working in Memphis after their TFA time. Instead of pushing back on TFA, we should learn from what they are doing right and implement those changes in traditional teacher preparation programs.