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What Teach for America Says When It Talks to Itself

February 1, 2014

As I was researching my “Bill Pays to Help Arne” post, I came across a discussion site, Wall Street Oasis, where those hoping to Make It Big on The Street are able to connect in order to solve issues related to their career ambitions.

The site has a link for Teach for America (TFA).

The link includes a number of revealing 2008-2013 discussion threads, particularly since many writers assume that they are interacting with fellow TFAers who desire what TFA founder Wendy Kopp promotes: A high-powered, lucrative, “real” career following a brief TFA stint.

Many assume the TFA promo of Ivy League Short-term Student Saviour, but not all.

Kopp advances the ungrounded idea that TFA recruits can “close the achievement gap” because they are the “best and brightest”– and that they can do so going into America’s toughest teaching situations in two-year stints. And after “closing the gap,” TFAers can fulfill the nation’s need for their “best and brightest” leadership in key educational roles, including those of district or state superintendent, or charter school/education company “founder.”

As to the Wall Street Oasis TFA discussion board: I repost here some of the more telling commentary as such reveals both TFAer career motivations and opinions about the TFA organization, mission, and/or experience.

Though some have clearly swallowed the Kopp koolaid, others are staring at the cup wondering whether they should drink. And still others have thrown the full cup across the room.

For the sake of length, I have selected from among the discussion content for this post. Some content requires site membership for viewing. These limitations noted, what I have written has makes for a lengthy and informative post for those outside of TFA.

Let us now enter their TFA-fashioned world.

Thread One

Hi all,

Just wanted to pick your brains on this question that’s been on my mind.

I’m wrapping up my second year of TFA, and I recently realized that I would love to continue working in schools, preferably in a school leadership position (position like Dean of Students, Operations at Charter schools, etc). [This and all subsequent bolding added.]

However, I’ve also always wanted to go to Bschool [business school] ( especially a joint MBA/ MA in Education program like Stanford’s), because an MBA would give me more options and flexibility moving forward– maybe working for an edtech startup, managing a charter network, etc.

I guess my question is, would working in a school leadership position preclude me from being accepted into a top MBA program? I’m afraid that I’ll be pigeonholed into school roles for the rest of my career — not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but I’d like options.

Thanks,  guys!

One notable response open for viewing:

One of my classmates at an M7 [one of the seven elite business schools] did exactly this (TFA then Department Head at a charter school). You’ll be fine.

Thread Two

Next comes a reference to a Wall Street Journal article praising TFAers for “deferring” their “six figure salaries”:

I’m sure most of you here read Dealbook regularly, but for those that don’t please enjoy. The best parts are the in comments.

Notable comments:

title is misleading…most of the people going to TFA from my school would never have gotten a banking offer. They are mediocre students at best (although still within target schools), maybe the selectivity has gone down.

Reply to above comment:

Most of the people going into TFA don’t even consider a career in business/finance/consulting, and never have. The article states that only 21 people out of the 5000 deferred. Also, the number of people participating in thesummer internship/full-time resume drop is around 300-400, which is less than 10%.

As far as GPA/Test scores though, most people would fall within the range of theBB/MBB firms.  “Mediocre students at best” seems a bit biased, as I’m sure you’re viewing this from the perspective of someone interested in those firms and surrounded by extremely type A personalities. Just because you’re looking at a small group of individuals, I probably wouldn’t apply that to the majority of TFA members.

The contempt in the article is quite a bit extreme though. From my first hand experience and observations, most people do NOT leave the education field, although they may leave the classroom. TFA’s role is not to make educators. It is to make education reformers.

Another reply to original WSJ link and its comments:

Those comments are largely pathetic. If kids from top schools want to go teach in the worst parts of America, I think that’s awesome. I would never want to do it, but part of the reason these schools are so awful is because of the terrible quality of the teachers. Why not let some of America’s best and brightest give it a shot?

A good friend of mine was a poli sci major at UChicago, and did TFA with the intention of doing it a few years and then applying to law school. He is now in his 3rd year of teaching at a terrible middle school in Houston. He coaches football and teaches science, and he says it has been the most challenging and rewarding experiences of his life, and he wants to make a career in education reform after he finishes up his teaching career. He even just raised a bunch of money from his friends from college (ie. all people working in finance like me) to take his class on a field trip to DC. These are kids who probably have never even been to the nice areas of Houston, let alone on an actual vacation. And this is all possible because my friend had the initiative to do something like this. I am willing to bet most teachers at his school wouldn’t think of putting in the effort to do something like that.

Maybe I am just overly critical of teachers because I live in Chicago and had to listen for a week to the CPS protest outside my building because they only make $75K a year instead of $80K, but I think TFA is a great program and can do nothing but help improve the quality of education in public schools in underpriveleged (sic) areas of the country.

Thread Three

Hey guys, just wanted to get some opinions on my situation. I’m currently about to begin my second year of TFA, and I’ve spent the summer interning for an ed-tech start up. After my second year, I plan on returning to this same start up as a business analyst before hopefully applying to HBS [Harvard Business School] or some other top bschool [business school]. I graduated from Northwestern with a mediocre GPA. With a great GMAT, do I stand a chance for HBS / Stanford ? Kellogg?

Any input would be appreciated.

One visible response:

Yes, primarily because you will not be in the standard Consulting and Banker buckets so its slightly easier to get in. You’ll obviously spin a story about how you want to be a leader in education.

Thread Four

Read some of the other blog posts on here, but didn’t see anything quite like my situation. One year out of college with an offer to do TFA next year, currently teaching English abroad. Looking to get into management consulting. Went to a target, good GPA, Latin honors, good UG activities etc. Looking to consulting at a big name firm, but I feel that’s going to be hard to do just straight from here. Will I have a chance of doing it after TFA?

One visible response:

You’ll probably have to go to b-school [business school].

Thread Five

Just seeking some advice from you guys here– I just graduated from Northwestern this past June, and right now I’m doin (sic) Teach for America for the next two years. As you can tell from the name of the post, I’m trying to break into the consulting field afterwards. I majored in History during undergrad, with the original intent to go to law school after TFA. Needless to say I’ve had a change of heart. TFA had a resume collection for internships at Deloitte recently but I was unsuccessful. Any suggestions as to how to frame my experiences and make my resume / apps more attractive? Clearly I am not the “typical” applicant. Thanks!

First Response:

Can you provide more stats? What was your GPA? I generally think that if Deloitte didn’t interview you now despite the TFA push, then MBB [top consulting firms of McKinsey and Co., Boston Consulting Group, and Bain and Co.] at this point will be impossible. You may need to go via (top) MBA, which could be a challenge as well if your hard stats (GPAGMAT) are not great and you haven’t gotten great experience by then.

Second response:

I’m a second year corps member (interesting side note: TFA interest on this forum has definitely increase [sic] from my perspective) and am in the process of interviewing with several consulting firms. Now the thing to realize is that the TFA resume drop is based solely on stats and you are likely competing with a large pool of more qualified/more experienced corps members (not to say that you aren’t). The key to working TFA to your advantage come [sic] primarily through utilizing their network. On you can search different companies and it will give you the results of all alumni in a particular company (including email). It is then your responsibility to email/network/whatever you need to do to get them to pass either your name along or your resume up. The resume drop by itself is like shooting in the dark–you might get a hit, but not without a lot of misses. Also you say you went to Northwestern–undoubetdly your alumni network is strong, utilize that. That being said, if your [sic] coming from an atypical path recruitment-wise be prepared to do the networking work and the follow-up work. I was able to get 4 interviews at top tier firms solely through utilizing my ‘summer off’ to network and learn [sic] more about the industry–which is where most people go wrong.

And just because Deloitte passed you over this round doesn’t mean to say you won’t be succesful [sic] in the next resume drop or that you won’t be successful in securing a full-time offer. I didn’t get an interview with Deloitte but did get MBB [McKinsey, Boston, Bain], Booz, Oliver Wyman and Huron. And I’m coming from a non-target liberal arts college with mediocore stats. If you want to know anything else feel free to PM me.


Third Response:

I’m a 1st year Corps Member, and didn’t get a hit from Deloitte either. I did interview with a MBB firm, and some Bulge Brackets last year though, so I’m not entirely sure how Deloitte made their interview decisions lol. That said, I wouldn’t sweat it too much, especially considering the real summer resume drop is coming next week. I will say it’s all in the grind though, and from now until the application deadlines in the next coming months you gotta network harder than a Junior with a bum GPA.

Original poster’s response to the three commenters:

thanks for the input guys….
@m2, my GPA was a mediocre 3.5…I actually never set my sights on MBB, as I figured those would be out of reach anyway. I was thinking more towards boutique firms such as Marakon , katzenbach, kurt salmon…do you think that these smaller firms would be any “easier” to land an interview with?

@smith, that’s some great advice…i’ll definitely be sending you a PM soon.

@better, good luck to you, i’ll definitely be in the next resume drop too. hopefully with better results. Did you hear back from GE at all, or did you just submit it for Deloitte?

Thread Six

This posting of a Mark Naison article entitled, Why Teach for America Is Not Welcome in My Classroom:

Aside from the somewhat socialist leanings of the article, thoughts?

First Response:

All I hear from this article is “WAAAHHHHHH”. He would rather have the bottom third of Flalafel State College teaching in these schools then Yale graduates just because they chose to go a different route in life after a couple years in TFA. Oh yeah and because his students didnt [sic] make the cut he is now butt hurt over it.

Second Response:

Based solely on this article alone, I would conclude that TFA favors the volunteers much more than the impoverished students themselves.

But tbh [to be honest], TFA is a waste of time and resource imho [in my humble opinion].

Third Response:

The absurdity of the program is that the TFA kids are paid as well as actual teachers and are less qualified academically and then get to quit after 2 years and never look back.

I think people should do good for the sake of doing good, not because they want an easier path to b school [business school] than the IBD/MC [International Business Development] grind.

The whole point of TFA is to recreate the movie Stand and Deliver on a wider scale — bringing in bright, unjaded kids that will push students from disadvantaged or at-risk backgrounds to pursue their education more seriously and be more competitive in the workplace. The problem is 1) most of these kids aren’t qualified to do that and 2) it’s a self-serving program that glorifies the teachers until they move on to totally unrelated careers right when they actually get the hang of teaching.

On an unrelated note, TFA is a non-profit — there is nothing “socialist” about the program or criticisms of it.

[Some other responses to responses here:  Follow this link.]

Fourth Response

There’s a lot of truth in the article. I’m in the midst of my summer training for TFA now, and the vast majority of my co-workers don’t REALLY care about these kids. It is a stepping stone, and a guaranteed job, by and large. I also have developed a tremendous amount of animosity towards the organization as a result of what I’ve seen in these past few weeks. This organization is NOT in it for the kids… it’s in it for the “Corps Members” and their experiences.

They have us teaching summer school after only have ONE WEEK of formal training. These kids are getting REAL grades in subjects that many of the teachers have no prior knowledge of. I for one typically learn the subject I’m going to teach the night before the lesson plan is due. It’s disgusting that these kids are used as our guinea pigs. Even the way their success is measured is a damn scam.

They are given the final exam on the first day and given 30 minutes to complete it. For the remainder of summer school, we are then forced to teach our objectives to this specific test, and it is given again on the last day of classes. They are given 2 hours at this point to complete it after having been taught essentially identical questions the entire summer. The questions we give on the final is the EXACT SAME as the ones given on that 1st day too. It’s real easy to say that “little __________ made a 48 point gain in his subject” when you have those particular conditions. The shit is sickening.

I joined to try and do some genuine good, but this organization is no different than many of the private for-profit organizations. At least they’re honest with their intentions. I would leave after seeing this, but there’s too much of a social stigma attached for my professional ambitions to do it. smh.

This thread has a number of additional back-and-forth comments that I have not posted but that can be read here. However, allow me to conclude this thread with the following zealous pro-TFA comment:

Our schools suck. They are a huge money pit. We have given American public education over to liberal do-gooders and educrats for decades. The results speak for themselves.

I support ANYTHING that challenges the status quo. That includes shutting down all public schools. That includes TFA, school vouchers, merit pay for teachers, banning teachers unions, religious schools, etc.

There you have it.

Thread Six

This one I cover in part. It begins with a question about the motives fo Goldman-Sachs in offering TFAers internships during the summer following their first TFA year. Follow this link for the entire thread.

Drex: This is exactly the shit that gives TFA a HORRIBLE reputation among education professionals. Take talented kids who COULD become good teachers, make them feel special, then yank them out after two years just as they’re learning how to do their jobs. Make it better by convincing first year teachers that they should be interning at Goldman instead of improving their lesson plans.

Beef: Wasn’t aware TFA had a horrible rep in higher ed community. I thought they were this super-awesome organization that everybody loves.

Happy: My buddy is doing TFA so take this for what its worth but I think he meant the reputation of the program itself and not necessarily the alums/participants of the program.

Drex: Exactly. The issue is precisely that the people doing it are actually good, but they are being put in to schools for two years, where they can’t do any good, and then pulled out, rather than looking at it as a long-term commitment. TFA does have a good talent pool, and education in this country is better served by those people continuing to teach, rather than going to Goldman. That’s not to say some TFA alumni don’t go off and do useful things, because they do, but that is a definite minority. There are lots of other reasons that people in education don’t like TFA, but that’s the main one.

Steel: Yeah IMO it’s just a resume booster than has no positive effect on the education system as a whole

Shred: Surely better to have them for two years than not have them at all. I don’t think the kids doing TFA would be interested in a permanent teaching role.

Drex: No, it’d be better not to have them at all. First and second year teachers are generally pretty bad at their job, regardless of whether they went to an Ivy league school.

Thread Seven

Only an excerpt regarding whether it is difficult to resume a business career track following TFA (in this case, whether to pursue Deloitte Consulting or TFA). For entire thread, follow this link.

1) TFA sucks. The title is great, but it is two years of teaching the worst kids stuff they dont [sic] want to learn.

2) Deloitte is a legit name, you will get experience and get paid. Use that to go to B school [business school] or stay in consulting.

Thread Eight

Lack of reality meets reality:

Two comments. Here’s the first:

TFA seems to be a good way to delay going into the real world and keeping any perceived ‘negative’ labels that may be attached to various areas of finance or business away for a short period of time while trying to figure shit out for graduate school. Considering how shitty hiring was the past few years (despite the recent pick-up), it makes sense for some people to do that if you are unsure of what to do and want to keep your options relatively open (esp if you plan on grad school anyway).

Response to above comment:

…You must be kidding me right. Teaching at inter city schools is not “delaying” going into the real world. Quite the contrary. Its jumping in head first. Its an incredibly difficult job to be a teacher in an under funded under appreciated school with minimal if any parental support. An analyst gig may be more grueling in terms of hours than being a first year teacher in the inter city but I guarantee that job is significantly harder.

That being said, I’m not a big fan of TFA. To me its kinda a joke. You get fast tracked to becoming a teacher and receive a normal teachers salary. Not to mention the “prestige” of the program. What are you really sacrificing, nothing really. Maybe if you get sent to a school in the middle of no where [sic] there is more of a sacrifice but its not comparable to something such as the Peace Corps where you don’t receive a salary and live in the middle of no where [sic], in a different culture and different language, isolated and away from friends and family.

TFA should be reserved for people that actually want to be teachers not people looking to beef up their bschool application or other grad school applications. What a waste of time and money to hire and train a bunch of kids only to have them leave after two years. I have friends that are “real” teachers that teach in the same schools as TFA kids are there is a certain level of resentment. They are doing the exact same job because they actually want to be teachers not because they want it on their resume. I’ve heard that often time [sic] TFA kids have a certain better than thou attitude even though they are really just under prepared [sic] first year teachers. Not to mention, a lot of the time, the TFA kids are thrown into situations way over their heads and class rooms [sic] they definitely can not [sic] handle.

I like this guy.

My Own Closing Thread

TFA works hard to promote the image of the “best and brightest” as successfully and altruistically “giving back” by offering their indispensable “talent” to rescue students from achievement gaps that are clearly the fault of those who attended “non-target” institutions in order to earn degrees in what TFA considers a non-profession for its lack of “results.”

However, based upon the above discussion threads, some more astute TFAers realize that Kopp’s promotions are little more than selfish, strategically-endorsed, well-funded fiction.

As to those disillusioned-yet-enlightened former TFAers: May their numbers grow.

From → TFA, Wendy Kopp

  1. I tried to find out on their website at which schools they recruit and the ethnic breakdown of their recruits. I had no luck. Tell me if I’m mistaken but it seems to me that the majority of recruits are upper income white kids at private universities mainly on the east coast. We know that they are sent to “inner city” schools, code for low income communities of color. Doesn’t this sound like colonialism where missionaries are sent out to the heathens (my people!) as part of the program of conquest? It’s working in L.A. The LAUSD is on a witchhunt against senior top-of-the-payscale teachers and has fired and forced out thousands. It hired 700 TFA this year with money from the Walton Foundation. Another step in conquest, eliminate the elders who have a memory of how things should be done and the young can be easily deceived. Maybe it should be called the Great White Hope TF Awhile.
    Check out my blog As Mean As A Snake
    In it I’ll continue to illuminate the ongoing struggle against superintendent John Deasy’s pogrom.

    • yes, it is colonialism; and they do see themselves as “missionaries” ; see my note below about the Harvard/Calvinist and BU /Methodist philosophies that permeated our years — only one professor ever really talked about that. Professor Kahn at Boston University…. I also believe you are accurate about the “witchhunt” to eliminate the elders.

  2. 2old2tch permalink

    No wonder our country is in trouble! We are being inundated by a bunch of people who believe that human value depends on how much money can be garnered through a career devoted to sucking as much money out of any endeavor as they can. It doesn’t matter whether that enterprise survives as long as they make a reasonable return on the investment. They do not appear to think that there is any other purpose in life than to see how much they can get. They rate themselves by where they went to school and the grades they got , and look down their noses at anyone who did not attend a “top tier” school. They certainly have no respect for people who train to be teachers nor do they hold any respect for public education. At best they will become charter school execs who leach money out of the system and treat their teachers and students to a mind numbing type A view of existence that ruthlessly weeds/burns out the defiant and defeated. I applaud the posters who see beyond their own advantage and who question the TFA game plan. To the rest of “the best and the brightest,” I suggest you go play in your own neighborhood. You certainly do not belong in mine. We still have outdated notions about building community.

  3. VermontTeacher permalink

    TFA=Therapy For Affluent college kids who want to play school until they can figure out a way to make millions.

  4. two things strike me: #1 — this is the same attitude that we experienced in Boston when I was studying at BU and others were “across the River”…. grad students would work through Harvard and then expect to get a “policy” job in Washington. The understanding we had at that time was Harvard used a Calvinist philosophy of “elite” and Boston University had the Methodist philosophy “anyone can be saved”. This is what we talked about in some classes — like sociology; it was apparent that there was a “caste” system…. The pluggers went to Northeastern U. etc (that did not have a large focus in education and it has dwindled since then.)..
    (b) This ethic permeates the culture; there is a “caste” system in place. These individuals who have decided they don’t want the science and engineering degrees, but want to move up in the business world see our schools as a “Peace Corps” and our students as the 3rd world nation. Having been with public schools for over 50 years I resent this; however, it does permeate the culture. There is a definite caste system now in the U.S. and this element of the “cognitive elite” who are “privileged” and deserve more is surrounding us. (in particular, note the kids TFA candidate quotes who never see the better sides of Houston). Hubris and arrogance within a caste system is what depicts the current ethos and milieu.

  5. I wanted to extend my critique of the ethics/philosophy and show a parallel with 19th century England/Ireland (the Irish famine was not just in one country)

    Trevelyan recommended a drastic reduction in the distribution of
    subsidised food and a major extension of public works. Free market
    forces must not be disrupted by government interference. The poor must
    work for their food.

    In his memorandum to the cabinet on 1st August 1846 Trevelyan advised
    that ‘the supply of the home market may safely be left to the foresight
    of private merchants.’

    At the same time, a disaster on an unprecedented scale was unfolding in
    Ireland. One of the many who recorded it was the Reverend Samuel
    Montgomery, the rector of Ballinascreen in Co Londonderry.

    He made this entry in the parish register: ‘On the three last days of
    July and the first six days of August 1846 the potatoes were suddenly
    attacked, when in their full growth, with a sudden blight. The tops
    were first observed to wither and then, on looking to the roots, the
    tubers were found hastening to Decomposition. The entire crop that in
    the Month of July appeared so luxuriant, about the 15th of August
    manifested only blackened and withered stems. The whole atmosphere in
    the Month of September was tainted with the odour of the decaying
    Do any of your history textbooks point out these were the Hungry 40s and
    other countries were having similar crop failures, rye, etc… and the
    governments dealt with the crisis in a different fashion? Thanks

  6. Thanks again, Mercedes for your in depth research. Invaluable.

  7. Fwiw, i will post a link to this on my blog

  8. I have no words for their heartless words and despicable attitudes that are so heart wrenching. The only comfort I can find is knowing well this isn’t all or even a cross-section of TFA volunteers, as a WSJ forum, specifically for climbers and wannabe climbers would attract even more of this element.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: What TFA says when it talks to itself | GFBrandenburg's Blog
  2. Narrative vs. Counter-narrative: Teach For America in their own words | Cloaking Inequity
  3. Top 10 Reasons to Join Teach For America | EduShyster
  4. Top 10 Reasons to Join Teach For America | Edushyster
  5. An Open Letter to Teach for America | Gridtips
  6. Goldman Sachs Wing of @TeachForAmerica #TFA25 – Cloaking Inequity
  7. School Hasn’t Changed in 100 Years. So Saith TFA. | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

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