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A Teach for America Curiosity: When the Houseplants Outrank TFA

August 19, 2017

This afternoon I spent surfing sites associated with Teach for America (TFA), the well-known teacher temp agency that recruits individuals who hold bachelors degrees outside of teaching; trains them for five weeks in summer institutes, and partners with various postsecondary and other institutions to help its recruits obtain state teacher certifications (see an example here) that those recruits agree to use for two-year classroom stints as K12 teachers.

TFA advertises that its teachers make the same salaries “as other beginning teachers working for the same employer.” TFA makes its money by charging districts a per-recruit fee (see a sample TFA-district contract here). TFA also has scores of corporate, philanthropic, and other donors (see the 2015 list in this 2015 TFA financial support). Ans as one might expect, TFA does not just wait for the money to come to it; on the contrary, TFA employs directors, such as this Boston “individual giving director,” to pound the pavement and drum up millions in annual financial support.

Even with its fly-by-summer training and its turnstile, two-year recruit commitment, TFA unabashedly proclaims itself a provider of “world class education.” An example:

Massachusetts is a state that regularly leads the nation in general indicators of educational excellence, yet low-income students are still subject to one of the largest disparities in academic outcomes. We believe that it is unconscionable that students in many communities are receiving anything less than the world-class education we are capable of providing them.

Indeed, on the World Wide Web, TFA has a lot to offer its recruits, prospective recruits, and the internet-surfing world at large, including retail discounts, which it advertises at the end of this web page:

RETAIL DISCOUNTS

Overview

Teachers are eligible for countless discounts at retailers around the country.

In addition to the discounts listed on this page, check out TeacherPop.org, Teach For America’s blog with tips for new teachers. We regularly post deals and discounts.

I clicked on the link for TeacherPop and received the latest post, dated April 07, 2017, and entitled, “TeacherPop Is Taking a Break.”  All links on the site are inactive, but here is how that latest post reads:

Happy Friday, dear readers! Starting next week, TeacherPop is taking a break to do a little housekeeping and update our platform. We look forward to continuing to bring you all the teacher tips and tools you can use inside and outside the classroom. In the meantime, check out some of our favorite posts from the archives below, and see you soon!

Science Says Your Classroom Needs More Dance Parties

18 Goal-Driven Classroom Phrases

11 Myths About Teaching That We’re Still Busting

7 Tips for Managing Your Classroom Like a Boss

19 Essential Materials That Every Teacher Needs

10 Daily Affirmations for Teachers

5 High School Math Procedures

Top Resources for Scoring Free Books for Your Students

The Pros and Cons of 3 Common Classroom Seating Arrangements

15 Inspirational Quotes for Teachers

I was curious about the posts, so I used the Wayback Machine to browse the TeacherPop post archives.

My favorite line is in “11 Myths About Teaching That We’re Still Busting”:

Myth 7: Teaching is a backup career.

Guys! Teaching is a calling, requires advanced degrees and certification—like other professionals—and is far from a fall-back choice.

The author forgot to add that for most TFAers, teaching is a calling for only two years, and that for TFA founder, Wendy Kopp, teaching was indeed a fall-back choice that she failed to secure when she graduated in 1989 from Princeton without a job and tried to get a teaching job at the last minute but missed the application deadline. (I wrote about Kopp in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes.)

In another post, “10 Daily Affirmations for Teachers,” I noticed that the post author, Sarah F., was tagged as being “a special education teacher and Teach for America alum (Chicago ’13). It bothers me that TFAers are allowed to be special education teachers. At the time of this writing (September 2015), Sarah F. had likely just completed her two TFA years as a person holding a bachelors degree outside of education and yet being allowed access to a vulnerable population without having completed special ed certification prior to being granted such access.

And so it was.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) licensure lookup, Sarah F. was granted her Learning Behavior Specialist 1 license on July 25, 2014, which means that she was not formally licensed until her second year serving special education students.

Her Illinois license expires June 30, 2020.

It turns out that Sarah F. has continued in the classroom. According to her Linkedin bio, Forst is a “diverse learners teacher” in the Chicago area. Forst also has a blog, thedesignerteacher.com.

Both her Linkedin bio and her blog “about” page have one issue in common:

Neither identifies Sarah F. as a former TFAer.

The closest Sarah F. comes to it is in her Linkedin bio description of her time as a special education teacher in 2013-15, which was her TFA stint. Sarah F. mentions TFA by name but allows for the ambiguity that she was a TFA trainer and not necessarily a TFA recruit (see bolded text):

Special Education Teacher

[Name of School]
August 2013 – June 2015 (1 year 11 months)

• Teach reading, language arts, and math to students grades K-4 in inclusion and resource settings
• Led students to achieve an average of 18 pts growth on NWEA Reading test for 2013-14 school year
• Write and implement Individualized Education Plans for caseload of 15 students
• Track student data on a daily basis to inform instruction
• Create teaching materials including adapted books, games, schedules, and data trackers
• Collaborate with co-teachers to provide accommodations and modifications to students in general education setting
• Lead teams to plan and execute school-wide reading nights and assemblies
• Applied for and received grants totaling over $2,000 from First Book and Donors Choose
• Created and led Teach for America professional development “Literacy for K-3 Resource” for 15 Special Education teachers
• Proficient with the following programs: Wilson Reading System, Really Good Reading’s Phonics BOOST,
Reading A-Z, Thinking Maps, LexiaCore 5, Words Their Way
• Proficient in the use of the following systems and technology: Impact, Mileposts, PowerSchool, DIBELS,
Google Drive, ENO Smartboard, iPads, Chromebooks, MacBooks

[bolded text added]

Sarah F. also skirts mentioning that she is a TFA alum in her blog’s “about” page, though the telltale signs are there given her bachelors in design and her mention of alt-cert:

ABOUT

You’re a passionate special education teacher and you’ll do anything for your kids, from modifying assignments to teaching them how to blow their noses. But between lesson plans, progress monitoring, IEPs, FBAs, and a million other acronyms, you’ve got A LOT on your plate. No one can do it all, and you shouldn’t have to. That’s where I come in.

I’m Sarah, The Designer Teacher, and I empower passionate special education teachers to feel more peaceful & purposeful by providing systematic reading resources designed with struggling learners in mind. 

I’m an elementary special education teacher with a degree in design. I’ve combined my expertise in design with my experiences working with special learners to create resources that are clear and accessible to all.

Ready to get started with explicit phonics instruction without the hassle? Check out Phonics by Design: The Complete Curriculum or download a NO PREP freebie here!

What else is there to know?

Well, I’m a Chicago-transplant originally hailing from the East Coast… and I have the Type A personality to prove it. I got my degree in Interdisciplinary Object Design back in Maryland, but moved to Chicago to join an alternative certification program for special education. I teach at a very diverse, Title I school, and I’m passionate about social justice.

I try to lead a balanced life and have a lot of hobbies in addition to teaching and my small business! I love arts & crafts of all kinds, from scrapbooking to knitting. I’m also an avid reader– magical realism is my favorite! Oh– and I have a husband and a lot of house plants too!

In Forst’s blog bio, even the house plants get directly mentioned. But not TFA.

house plant

TFA expects its alumni to advance its cause by strategically easing into positions of edu-political leadership. Not only does Forst break from being a TFA billboard; she also remained a classroom teacher for over four years, which makes it seem that she has dispensed with the TFA idea of classroom teaching as a temp job and considers her classroom teaching position as a genuine career– exactly as it should be.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

14 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    The Designer Teacher has lessons to sell, not much original content, graphics that appeal to teachers. It is hard to tell if she wants to continue teaching or make a living from her design degree. The sales are managed by an eBay like website, teachers pay teachers. One thing that seems to required of TFAers is “passion.” Being “passionate” is an attribute highly valued in the gig economy. I think it is not the same as commitment.

    • In our inner-city schools as older, more opinionated teachers were being pushed out and TFA kids brought in, the TFA “passion” and early enthusiasm lasted at most one to one and a half years. ALL teachers lost their shine with the endless administrative churn which turned itself viciously upon “last year’s” teachers, including last year’s greenhorns, whenever top-down change was initiated—-and top-down change was initiated year after year.

    • Linda permalink

      Conclusions from text that includes an average of 2 self-references per line? ( a reply below has almost 25 “I’s”, 10 “my’s”, almost 10 “me’s” and, 1 “myself”, all within 22 lines)

  2. Jack Covey permalink

    In case you have any doubt about where Ms. Forst stands in regard to TFA, read this comment which she left in the COMMENTS section of a self-made video of a TFA Corps Member who, in her video, attempts to straddles the fence regarding whether the good of TFA outweighs the bad, or vice-versa.

    Here’s that video where Ms. Forst’s comment is the “TOP COMMENT”:


    X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
    SARAH FORST (1 month ago):

    “Yeah, in Chicago, (TFA)’s FOR SURE taking away jobs from teachers. The summer I started TFA (2013) there were 2,000 teacher layoffs in Chicago Public Schools… magically all the new TFAers still got jobs. We’re way cheaper than experienced teachers, so schools have an incentive to hire TFAers (or any brand new teacher) over experienced ones.

    “TFA also completely props up charter schools in Chicago. Many of them have super high teacher turnover because the working conditions are bad and the salaries are WAY lower than Chicago Public Schools. But the charter schools can just hire new TFAers every single year, so they never have to worry about working conditions or salaries.

    “I agree that TFA isn’t an ‘evil organization,’ but they should really stop placing teachers in charter schools and probably just (stop in) Chicago in general, since there’s no teacher shortage here. (It’s Sarah from The Designer Teacher, btw!)”

  3. Jack Covey permalink

    Off topic:

    Tomorrow the hilarious and powerful John Oliver charter school piece will celebrate its one-year anniversary (it was simultaneously broadcast on HBO, and posted on YouTube on August 21, 2016.)

    The YouTube video of this video on track to hit 8 million Views either some time today or tomorrow, so in honor of this anniversary and the 8 Million-View milestone, here it is again:

    • Jack Covey permalink

      By the way, John Oliver’s charter school takedown video just hit 8 million Views at about 10:25 pm (Pacific Time, August 20, 2017)

      Since that’s 1:25 AM (Eastern Standard Time) on August 21, 2017, and 12:25 AM (Central Standard Time) on August 21, 2017, that means that the video reached its one-year anniversary, and hit exactly 8 Million Views …

      … and the same ding-dong day! (in those two parts of the country)

      (NOTE: it was first broadcast on HBO, and simultaneously uploaded onto YouTube on August 21, 2016)

      Time to celebrate!

  4. Sarah permalink

    Hi Mercedes,

    First of all, I’m truly surprised that a line on my resume merits an entire blog post. One teacher choosing to leave TFA off their resume does not a phenomenon make. Given the lengths you went to research my education, certification, and even YouTube comments, I’m disappointed that you did not contact me. Rather than speculate and mock the fact that I mentioned that I like plants, you could have simply asked me why I didn’t include TFA on one version of my resume. Better yet, you could have contacted more TFA alums and asked if we included TFA on our resumes, and why or why not. That might have made for a post that actually informed readers about how alums see their experiences. Instead, you chose to write an entire post about me, without contacting me, and include personal details. Clearly, you have access to my contact information. If you had asked me, I would have explained my reasoning. I am not hiding the fact that I participated in Teach for America, as you can see by the fact that I once wrote for TeacherPop, the TFA blog. As your post clearly illustrates, many people in education have a negative perception of TFA and TFA teachers. I myself have qualms about the organization, and don’t necessarily want it to be the first thing possible employers know about me. I was never employed by TFA, so I don’t see it as deceptive not to include it on my resume. As you so diligently reported, I am a fully certified teacher who has taught for four years. If an interviewer (or anyone), asks me how I started teaching or where I got my certification, I explain that I took part in Teach for America and received my certification through National Louis University. I have no idea why it would be of note that I didn’t include the fact that I’m a TFA alum on my blog. My audience is special education teachers. If they ask, or if TFA is brought up, I’m happy to talk about my experiences. But I don’t see it as relevant to my identity. I’m primarily a teacher and a designer. You haven’t published anything here that isn’t already public information, but after two blog posts specifically about me with no attempt to contact me, I felt the need to respond.

    • Sarah, I edited the post as follows: I use only your first name and last initial, and I edited out the name of the school in Linkedin bio info.

    • Linda permalink

      In general, are TFA’ers, self- absorbed, self-promoting people who love the adulation they assume they will garner in the limelight? (If so, I don’t think they belong in education’s sphere.)
      The TFA promise of management jobs for the wet behind the ears, after their brief dip into a classroom, suggests that’s who they want to attract along with the “entrepreneurial” opportunists plotting tax taking ventures.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Spitting Out the Koolaid: A Former Chicago TFAer on TFA, and More | deutsch29
  2. Mercedes Schneider on the TFA Teacher Who Forgot to Put It on Her Resume | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Do Many TFAers Exclude TFA from Their Bios? A Search. | deutsch29
  4. Teachers with 5+ Yrs Experience: What Are You Learning of Late? | deutsch29

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