In reading through the usual vitriol over Teach For America (TFA) in a variety of blogs, traditional media pieces, and on Twitter, it occurs to me that, as far as I know, none of the most vocal critics of TFA are parents of children who actually sit in the classrooms of TFA corps members every day. My own children are taught by TFA teachers. Yes, that’s right. My children are enrolled in a regional and intentionally diverse school that is deemed “high poverty” and qualifies as a site for TFA. Every year, at least one of my sons is in a class with a current TFA corps member or a former corps member. My boys have administrators who are TFA alumni too, some in the past decade and others more than 20 years ago. But unlike most parents with children at our school (or any other site that welcomes TFA), my work provides me with a platform that allows for my voice to be heard. And while my fellow parents may talk to me privately or sit on parent panels and share out about the phenomenal learning and growth they see in their children, they don’t have an easy way to really push back on those who throw around words like “untrained,” “incompetent” and “uncommitted” to describe the people with whom their children, and my children, spend their days. One important question is: Does it even matter if the critics had the experience of having their own children in classes with TFA teachers? The answer probably lies somewhere between yes and no. It certainly doesn’t disqualify anyone from sharing their opinions; many of those who speak out against the organization have had very personal experiences that have led them to their conclusions about TFA. I would never devalue their experience; on the contrary, their critique should be part of the conversation. But when we speak of the value, or lack thereof, of any organization, it seems that looking through the lens of
those they actually serve is an essential exercise and I’m not sure that TFA critics spend enough time doing that. I look at the critiques, both fair and unfair, as well as the ad hominem attacks through a different lens than most folks in this space. The Mom lens. And my children have been served very well, in their learning and in their overall development as little young men. Their teachers, regardless of how they came to be teachers, have played an integral role in that and it’s unclear why anyone would want to take one subset of them out of our schools. I am especially perplexed by the constant claims of “lack of training” for TFA corps members when 62 percent of traditionally trained teachers say they themselves
didn’t feel ready to manage a classroom after completing their programs. Ask the principals about the readiness of teachers coming out of traditional teacher preparation programs and
you’ll hear this: Sixty-seven percent are not prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. Seventy-two percent are not prepared to address the needs of students with diverse cultural backgrounds. And seventy-nine percent are not prepared to work with the parents. To make matters even more cognitively dissonant for all of us, ninety-six percent of these same teachers pass the exams needed for licensure, despite their own misgivings about their level of preparedness and despite what principals observe about them on the job. Teacher preparation needs to be better. It also needs to provide alternative pathways into the profession, which TFA does. Rigidity around certification and hiring keeps potential excellence out of our children’s classrooms and there is no excuse for that. Talent comes from all directions and policies that keep talent from touching the lives of our students are simply not defensible. My kids spend their days around lots of people who came to education through Teach For America. I’m grateful for that.
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...