Photography by Jeremy Schulz
Teach for America: Nothing but a Resume Builder?
I recently read an article about Teach for America, a program that recruits the best and brightest our nation has to offer from schools like Harvard, and put them in the most jacked up schools in our nation. Basically the article said this: After 2-3 years, almost half of these teachers had left the profession, and after 5-6 years, almost all of them were gone. With a track record like that, you have to wonder what the goal of Teach for America really is. I’m sure those stats don’t have their home office twirling their fingers and going “Whoopty-doo.”
The article basically highlighted the fact that Teach for America is harder to get into than Law School at Colombia, or Harvard, and that there were more applicants than ever this year because TFA offers a real paycheck, something harder and harder to come by straight out of college these days. But I read it in a little different light. The “best and the brightest” are using TFA as a resume builder, and laughingly, they’re doing it for the money! Isn’t that the ultimate recession irony? People are going into TEACHING for the money. Hilarious.
I remember the TFA students in my teaching credential program. They came to evening class all still wearing ties, took more notes than anyone else, and kind of put off the vibe that said, “I went to Harvard, we don’t need to associate, you’re a lifer.” Yes, a lifer as in, I’ll be teaching more than a couple years. I felt like the rest of us were freaks and perverts sitting in the back of the room while the Harvard alums were saving the children of Oakland for one year before going back to Ohio. In their defense, many of us were freaks and perverts. Getting into a teaching credential program without going through TFA isn’t what you’d call grueling. Our credential programs, like our hiring policies in public schools, basically consists of checking your wrist for a pulse followed by the question, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
But reading about the dismal numbers of the Teach for America program hit home a couple key points for me. The first is that intelligent, well-balanced, goal-oriented, powerful individuals eventually figure out teaching is a dead end job. Hey, if the best of the best from our Ivy League schools aren’t sticking around, what are we left with? The freaks and the perverts, or to be more accurate – me.
You see, studies have shown that the best of the best teaching candidates don’t usually end up being the best of the best teachers. The best candidates from an academic POV are the 4.2 GPAs with all kinds of extra-curricular, save-the-trees, politically active white people from affluent areas. The problem is that I’ve also just described the demographic that struggles most when teaching in our public schools (seriously, check out EdNews.org).
So essentially, what TFA is doing is helping these goal-oriented students earn a paycheck comparable to an entry level job in a “real” profession for 2 years, all the while boosting their resumes, because evidently TFA is harder to get into than most Law and Medical Schools. So like some political candidates these days, they can say, “I was a teacher once.”
Of course, the question left over is: “So where does that leave education?”
Where education always is: Forgotten.
These guys and gals go on to Law Schools and better paying jobs, buy bigger houses, and continually distance themselves from the poor kids they once tried to help for a couple years.
I guess this all sounds a little harsh. But to be honest, I’m not mad at the teachers in TFA, or those who run their organization. I think it is a great organization that recruits great teachers on paper, and I would welcome them to come to my school any day (please do, we’re always hiring). Because with a TFA teacher, I know I’m getting someone intelligent, because with the freaks and perverts, sometimes that’s exactly who I end up with in the revolving classroom next to mine. The lack of retention isn’t just a TFA problem, it is a problem in the entire profession. You can’t blame people for leaving a shit job, and in this country, that is basically what public school education is to most people. And a low-paying one at that. Our best and brightest Harvard alums can’t be wrong, can they?
That leaves those of us one sandwich short of a picnic, the lifers, like me, to stick around and help these kids out. I’m probably not leaving soon. And even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to put Teach for America on my resume – it would only say “Teacher.”