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Featuring a Pointed Email Exchange Between a TFA Recruiter and College Prof

April 13, 2016

My primary purpose in this post is to offer an email exchange between a university professor and a Teach for America (TFA) recruit who requested to visit his class in the fall of 2015 for the purpose of recruiting for TFA’s 2016 season. I have decided to offer some related commentary prior to the exchange because the exchange is powerful, and I will end the post with it.

On April 12, 2016, Teach for America (TFA) President Elisa Villanueva Beard reported that TFA recruitment was down for the third year in a row. (I posted about it here.) Beard also noted that in an effort to raise recruitment in the future, TFA would focus on recruiting college sophomores and juniors (as opposed to only seniors). Moreover, she adds the following statements:

Some 85 percent of us work full-time in education or with low-income communities, even though only 1 in 5 of us had plans for a career in education before encountering TFA. …

Corps members are good at their work: Study after study affirms that they advance student learning more than other new teachers….

Regarding studies associated with TFA superiority over traditionally trained teachers: In December 2012, I dissected a TFA study; one critical question about TFA teachers “outperforming” new, non-TFA teachers concerns possible presence of another, more experienced teacher present in the room with the TFAer.

However, there is another issue with comparing TFAers with “other” (i.e., non-TFA) new teachers, and Beard hints at it in her comment above about “1 in 5” having “plans in education”:

TFA recruits from among college grads who were already training for a career in the classroom. I know this, for two reasons. First of all, one of my teaching colleagues is a former TFAer who earned her degree in education prior to joining TFA. She planned to remain in the classroom, and has– and she was better trained for it than other TFAers.

The second reason is the very email exchange featured at the conclusion of this post, which happens to be between a college of education professor and a TFA recruiter. The recruiter was trying to recruit for the 2016 TFA class, and s/he chose to try to recruit students already planning to become teachers– career teachers. Garnering recruits from teacher training programs benefits TFA in a number of ways: 1) These students are already committed to classroom teaching; 2) TFA will get a fee from the education agencies that hire their recruits (in Louisiana, that fee has been as much as $9,000 per recruit); 3) TFA gets to call these traditionally -classroom-trained individuals “TFAers” in any TFA comparison research, and 4) TFA recruits already planning a career in the classroom help boost the TFA stat about the number of former TFAers who remain in the classroom beyond the usual two years.

A win, win, win, win. Well, sort of. In 2016, TFA is having a time getting the recruitment buy-in that it has in the past– and by “past,” I mean since before 2010.

Concerning some specific content of email exchange between ed prof and TFA recruiter, two final points worthy of note:

  1. In the exchange, the recruiter is targeting “juniors, seniors, and grad students.” Thus, for 2016, TFA was already trying to recruit juniors, and it apparently did not pan out as well as TFA would have liked. So, as Beard publicized on April 12, 2016, the TFA recruitment reach now extends to sophomores.
  2. The featured recruiter was brazen enough to ask to speak to students enrolled in a teaching methods class about, as s/he put it, “meaningful post-graduate (paid) employment opportunities,” which puts a salesperson’s spin on what the students are already aiming to do career-wise: teach.

The education prof, Dr. Cole Reilly, lets this recruiter know in pointed terms exactly what he thinks of TFA– including how the organization exploits the likes of this young recruiter.

(I researched this individual whose name is removed from Reilly’s exchange and others like him/her. One can find scores of them on Linkedin. According to Glassdoor, their salaries range from $38,000 to $46,700. It seems that most go directly from their two year TFA classroom stints directly into recruiting.)

And now (I know, finally, huh?), here is Reilly’s email exchange, including his remarks posted to Facebook to introduce the exchange, all of which is posted here with his knowledge:

ATTN: EDUCATORS & ALL THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT EDUCATION…. THE FOLLOWING CORRESPONDENCE (subject heading: “Impactful Career Opp for Towson Students!”) REFLECTS MY RECENT EXCHANGES WITH A TEACH FOR AMERICA (TFA) REPRESENTATIVE WHO WISHED TO USE SOME OF MY INSTRUCTIONAL TIME TO PRESENT TO MY STUDENTS. AS A COURTESY TO THE OTHER PARTY AS AN INDIVIDUAL, I’VE REPLACED HIS/HER/HIR NAME WITH *s, ETC. MY REMARKS SPEAK LESS TO THIS PERSON IN PARTICULAR AND MORE TO AN ISSUE I (AND COUNTLESS OTHERS I RESPECT) SEE AS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM. I DON’T KNOW THAT MY RESPONSES ARE PERFECT (I CAN CERTAINLY SECOND-GUESS MUCH OF THE SPECIFIC WORDING), BUT I THOUGHT OTHERS MIGHT FIND THIS USEFUL TO “SHARE” AS THEY SEE FIT OR USE IN DRAFTING THEIR OWN RESPONSE SHOULD THEY NEED TO ANYTIME SOON. CR

PS: Pardon the caps-lock intro above, etc. I just thought it might help distinguish this introduction from the actual correspondence itself.

PPS: Please note that it is EXCEEDINGLY rare that I choose to sign my name as “Dr. Reilly” except in those rare instances where I sense it seems necessary.

—————————————————————–

Subject: Re: Impactful Career Opp for Towson Students!

On Sep 25, 2015, at 3:27 PM, *****, *******

<*******.*****@teachforamerica.org>

*******.*****@teachforamerica.org  wrote:

Dear Professor Reilly,

To quickly introduce myself, my name is ******* ***** and I manage recruitment efforts and university effort for Teach For America at Towson University. I’m contacting you because I was hoping I could schedule a brief class announcement by one of our staff members about our organization’s mission and the meaningful post-graduate (paid) employment opportunities we offer.

Teach For America is working to end educational inequity by recruiting outstanding college juniors, seniors, and grad students, from all majors, to teach for two years in low-income communities after graduation. Only one in ten children growing up in poverty will graduate from college. We believe this is a serious injustice, and that all children should have a chance to obtain an excellent education regardless of their zip code. With your help, we can continue to increase awareness about this issue amongst Towson students in hopes of building a movement for educational equality across campus. Please let me know if you would allow a brief announcement in your Teaching Social Studies in Elementary School class on Tuesday, October 13th at the beginning or end of class, which ever you prefer. The presentation will last no more than 5 minutes. If you have any questions about Teach For America or the content of the announcement don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you for your consideration!

Best,

*******

******* *****

Associate, Recruitment

Teach For America

*******.*****@teachforamerica.org

*** W. ****** Street, Suite *-****

Philadelphia, PA 19122

***.***.***** ext.46109 (office)

“One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Requirements: U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Resident | 2.50 Undergraduate GPA | Bachelor’s Degree by June 2015”

_______________________________________

On Oct. 03, 2015, at 2:28 AM, Reilly Cole

<creilly@towson.edu>

creilly@towson.edu replied:

*******,

For numerous reasons I will not be providing TFA my classroom as a platform for their agenda. I cannot imagine sacrificing valuable/meaningful instructional time from students actually committed to being prepared for a serious career in teaching, to “celebrate” the efforts of an organization that pats itself on the back too readily for “improving” urban education, while actually presuming to sweep its mess under the metaphorical carpet.

As an organization, TFA seems to continually misrepresent itself, its impact, and its intentions – the tenor of your email suggests only more of that is intended to continue. Nowhere am I seeing/hearing TFA take responsibility for what would in fact seem has been a horrendous track-record of doing more harm than good in inner-cities – providing under-qualified, under-supported albeit perhaps well meaning folks without backgrounds in education as teachers in schools that may actually need and deserve far more qualified educators than most – not less so. [Respectfully, *******, your Linked In profile shows nothing that would suggest you have the kind of training or expertise to make you fit to recruit the next generation of teachers for any area, much less areas which often have more complex needs —I see no evidence that you went through a legitimate teacher-preparation program yourself, much less that you would’ve spent years polishing your craft as a teacher yourself — had you had this kind of experience, I’d think it wouldn’t be absent from the Linked IN profile. Surely if such a responsibility (preparing and supporting the next generation of urban educators to become master teachers and NOT to simply harm or abandon these communities} was being taken seriously by TFA, it’s not the sort of work that would afford someone the ability to hold so many other jobs at the same time as to do just this.)

It is no secret how extreme the level of devastation has been in regard to NOLA’s educational system at the unskilled hands of TFA; further signs abound most everywhere for the disregard the program shows for taking teacher preparation and support seriously… much less for seriously and earnestly investing in inner city communities. I cannot, in good conscience, knowing the propensity of TFA candidates and programs to simply abandon these kids and communities once they’ve quickly burned out from being overwhelmed and unqualified for the classroom (or once they feel it’s sufficiently met their needs to pad a resumé for a career outside of education anyway, where they will likely represent their time in TFA on par with how a former member of the Peace Corps might). It’s DEEPLY problematic and wrought with uniformed “savior-complexes” that insult the field of education and hurt people in the inner cities. I would be remiss if I neglected to make my concerns as explicit and direct as I can.

Truthfully, I was offended that anyone could imagine I would want to support this ill-informed agenda/effort to effectively bastardize a field I care a great deal about and to further bludgeon and abandon communities that deserve far better than this.

Respectfully,

Dr. Reilly Cole Reilly, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education

Dept. of Elementary Education

College of Education

Towson University

Office: 120 Psychology Building

(410) 635-4611

creilly@towson.edu

________________________________________

On Oct 29, 2015, at 1:56 PM, *****, *******

<*******.*****@teachforamerica.org>

*******.*****@teachforamerica.org  responded:

Professor Reilly,

I respect your decision to decline our offer to present to your class; I know instructional time is precious.

As an educator, I respect your passion for your students and your personal views on what is needed to improve our educational system. Although we may not agree on Teach For America’s approach, I appreciate that we share a commitment to this work.

While I also appreciate you taking the time to extensively research both Teach For America and my professional background, I do want to note that I found some of your comments personally offensive and hurtful. People find their way to educational advocacy through many pathways—classroom experience, academic courses, and, as is true in my case, lived experiences. At Teach For America, we believe great teachers come from all of these backgrounds.

I’ll make note of your presentation preferences for future semesters.

Best,

*******

******* *****

Associate, Recruitment

Teach For America

*******.*****@teachforamerica.org

*** W. ****** Street, Suite *-****

Philadelphia, PA 19122

***.***.***** ext.46109 (office)

“One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Requirements: U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Resident | 2.50 Undergraduate GPA | Bachelor’s Degree by June 2016”

______________________________________

On Oct. 31, 2015, at 9:30 PM, Reilly Cole

creilly@towson.edu answered:

*******,

I was disappointed to read that you were personally offended or hurt by my professional critique of the TFA machine and its use of you as cog or gear within it, only because I fear such feelings may further distort your ability to see the truth in my words.

The following remarks stun and concern me:

1) “As an educator … we share a commitment to this work.”

Please do not refer to yourself as an educator. I have seen nothing in your professional resumé that would warrant such a regard for yourself. You may be bright, capable, and many many things. But you have no real training in the field and no real experience nor expertise in developing a craft.

2) “While I also appreciate you taking the time to extensively research both Teach For America and my professional background…”

I urge you to seriously research the dangerous machine that employs you as I wish you no ill will, but I actually am fighting for the children, the communities, and the profession it injures.

I mentioned only checking your LinkedIN page to see your self-expressed representation of training and work experience that has NOTHING specifically to do with the field of education (much less some of the most complicated facets of it); that’s HARDLY extensive research, but if someone who works for TFA would regard a two-minute scanning of such available info alone as “extensive research” it speaks volumes. It doesn’t speak to evidence of having yet looked critically at what you or it is actually a part of.

I’ve not tried to make anything personal or about you; your situation seems par for the course with this “organization” and it’s clumsy and unskilled approach to the field of education. Again, I don’t doubt you have many skills to do a great many things, but to place you (or anyone like you, without explicit training) in a position to steer others into a profession you yourself have not done (much less developed expertise in or a craft at) is actually quite dangerous. That I take personally. It’s actually offensive, not just to me, but to all children, all children’s parents/guardians, and all qualified teachers who may be hurt by this – in the inner-cities and outside of them.

To be sure, teacher-education programs like ours work with many people who change careers and wish to become teachers. Often times, such folk can be strong and their life experience can prove useful, but it would be irresponsible to toss any of them into something (much less some of the more complex and potentially needy classroom environments) before they are indeed skilled, truly supported, savvy, and ready enough to really help and not hurt. Their students are not to be guinea pigs for the luxury of one’s mid-life or mid-career experiment. Life experience can have value, but it alone does not make one an “educator” – not hardly; such thinking downgrades our work from a “ profession” to a series of menial chores for anyone to do.

Please cease and desist from referring to yourself by that term again until you invest in becoming a real part of our field. Words like “teacher” and “educator” are in fact terms my colleagues and I take seriously, having dedicated our lives to them; I for one should like to see such work regarded with a bit more respect than that. The casual mischaracterization of yourself as an educator (sans actual training, work experience, expertise, or dedication to the craft of it) seems akin to the civilian who goes hunting for sport the first time calling him-/herself a “soldier” etc. Certain terms deserve a bit more reverence than this.

Best of luck to you personally and professionally. Should you ever wish to enroll in and complete a genuine education program designed to help you become a competent and successful teacher– not the Cliff’s Notes equivalent, TFA offers– I should think we could actually become colleagues in helping children, not serving the wolves in sheep’s clothing of your employer. There really is a BIG difference… and it really does matter.

Dr. Reilly

Cole Reilly, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education

Dept. of Elementary Education

College of Education

Towson University

Office: 120 Psychology Building

(410) 635-4611

creilly@towson.edu

no-tfa

____________________________________________________________

Coming June 2016 from TC Press:

 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → TFA

8 Comments
  1. Amazingly clear. I had an exchange with a couple of TFAers who visited my classroom to find about second language acquisition and “project-based learning”. Then they opened a charter school. They were incredulous when I told them about how great the local schools of education are. They replied that they don’t believe the education schools are doing a very good job, as they seem to espouse rote learning and teaching to the test. I almost burst out laughing! TFA thinks that all the test-prep mania is a product of education schools! The irony!

  2. Susan Muchmore permalink

    Mercedes, as you know, I spent three years as a TFA seminar leader. My seminar met once a week for ten weeks to cram as much pedagogy into their exhausted heads as time allowed. What I found were severely unprepared young people who, for the most part, were thrown into charter schools that offered mismanaged, woefully inadequate, and academically poor experiences for training these “teachers.” What these recruits wanted from me were nuts and bolts suggestions on classroom management and the best practices of veteran teachers. What recruits got instead was a scripted curriculum heavy on advancing the agenda of TFA, whose corporate and politically driven education reform experiment has ended up damaging already fragile students in New Orleans. These kids experience a merry-go-round of inexperienced, frustrated “teachers” who don’t have a clue as to what their students need. By the third year, when a new TFA seminar curriculum emerged, I felt I was perpetrating a fraud. I was espousing a party line that was useless to the recruits so I quit mid-semester. TFA recruitment is down because former TFA recruits are speaking up on social media, sharing their experiences, and calling foul. Bravo to Dr. Reilly and you for continuing to expose the TFA fairy tale.

    Susan Muchmore
    National Board Certified
    Secondary ELA – Retired

  3. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    Thanks for passing this correspondence along, but professor Reilly was far too generous in giving up his time for this TFA-bot.

    There is no reasoning or explaining to this organization or the people who insist on promoting it; the only thing to do is expose it to sunlight, drive a stake through its vampire heart, and stuff its mouth with garlic and wolfsbane.

    • Jonathan permalink

      I think it’s good that the Professor gave a full bodied response in the way that he did. By forcefully and articulately responding to the recruiter’s smug assumptions, this TFA zealot must be, on some level, at least a little challenged. But more importantly it uses the exchange to reveal to others how very “ill-informed” this organization is.

      People can say and believe any half baked comfortable notion they want, but the truth does have a vivifying ring to it.

      Thanks for the post Mercedes.

  4. Reblogged this on Dern's Discourse and commented:
    This is a quote from the article…
    “Truthfully, I was offended that anyone could imagine I would want to support this ill-informed agenda/effort to effectively bastardize a field I care a great deal about and to further bludgeon and abandon communities that deserve far better than this”

  5. This has been the only satisfying moment of a truly frustrating and sad day in New Otleans. The Senate Education Committee voted to ‘return’ schools to the local school board after 13 Years (2018) however, 0the way the bill s written, all charters will continue to have autonomous control. Therefore, they will continue the harmful sharade of claiming to be schools where children are happy, well educated and have choice. TFA isn’t going anywhere here. Though we have some fabulous young people who came as TFA and saw the harm in it. They organized, learned about the Union, the community, learned from the fired veteran teachers before going back to teaching. Many are getting their masters. But this model being forced on inner city families is nothing short of fraud and therefore criminal. You can see some shorts about the New Orleans experience at, http://www.nolaedequity.org.

  6. La Ed Watcher permalink

    This made my day. But, it still doesn’t address one of the other issues in La. and, I suspect, in other states and at the federal level. These 2-year teaching wonders then migrate to education leadership positions and use their “vast” teaching experience to influence education policy. It’s even worse when they get elected to education boards because they move from influencing to actual policy-making. Scary.

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