Recently, I started applying to the Teach For America Corps, a program founded in 1990 to fulfill the increasing need for teachers in poor public school systems. At its start, TFA volunteers were going into some of the worst run schools in the country, and teaching in class rooms that would otherwise have been taught almost entirely by rotating substitute teachers. These volunteers were not professional teachers either, in fact only around 20 percent had studied teaching during their university careers. Never less, the mentality was that even if these volunteers were not the best educators, they were consistent, and a lot better than the alternative.
In the past few years TFA has been under a lot of scrutiny. While their program has grown vastly in the past 20 years, their strategies have not. With the economy in a vastly different state, we now have an overflow of teachers, which has recently caused many layoffs. In this environment, Teach for America volunteers are taking the jobs of career educators. This is magnified by the fact that TFA volunteers generally serve a two year term in the corps, then puruse their careers in other fields. This creates a high turnover for school systems, and an inconsistency for students whose teachers are never around after they graduate. Many schools also have contracts with TFA that require them to hire a certain number of volunteers, which can cause them to layoff veterans to make space for new jobs.
After I finished my application, I sent my essay to an education professor and asked for their opinion. What they told me was roughly the criticism written above, along with a suggestion that I reconsider my application. Naturally, I took this to heart.
That same night, I had a talk with one of my friends. He had gone to a small charter school in the center of Washington D.C. I asked him if he had TFA volunteers in his school, and he said he had. So I asked him what he thought of them. What he told me was that he thought they were hands down, the best educators at his school. He saw that they had replaced several veteran educators, however those people were simply not effective teachers. He also mentioned that none of the teachers that were at his school four years ago are still there today, but this was more of an inconvenience, than a real problem.
These two contrasting opinions scratch the surface of the educational reform controversy that has been a focus of our nation for the past several decades. I would like to delve into this organization for my second paper, and see how TFA truly operates.