Teach For America (TFA) is not the Enemy

Over the past few weeks more than a few friends and colleagues have engaged me in conversations about Teach for America (TFA), so I thought it a good idea to clarify my position on the program which is now infamous in some teacher education circles. My position on TFA is probably not what you would expect from a faculty member in a college of of teacher education. To be clear, my views and opinions are only mine, and may or many not be shared by my institution. With that said, as this post’s title suggests, I support the work of TFA and other programs like it. Here’s why:

  • TFA has successfully attracted high ability undergraduates and recent college graduates into the teaching profession; something many of our traditional colleges of teacher education have struggled mightily with doing. As far as I understand, most TFA corps members were not headed for careers in the classroom. They were, however, academically talented students. Through intentional and extensive marketing and recruitment, many of those young people have now spent time in some of our nation’s most under-served schools. Some have taught for only a few years, but others who will spend their career in education as teachers, administrators, college faculty, policy leaders, and researchers.
  • TFA recruits and selects only students who are academically well-prepared to serve as teachers. You might wonder why that’s worth stating, but it’s a shift from the typical academic. Standards for entry into the teaching profession have been much too low for far too long. We ought to want the best and brightest young talent going into the teaching profession. Traditional colleges of teacher education must begin to intentionally recruit high ability students, and raise their standards for program admissions. TFA is one of several groups helping to push this conversation nationally.
  • Most TFA corp members serve in schools and communities where most traditionally prepared teachers have no interest in serving. TFA is committed to placing their corps members in low-income schools and communities, rural and urban. In some of these schools the choice is not between a TFA corp member and a traditionally prepared teacher; the choice is between a TFA corp member and a substitute teacher.
  • Research suggests that TFA corps members are improving academic achievement in low-income schools and classrooms across the country; and in some instances, students in the classrooms of TFA corp members show higher academic gains than comparable students in the classrooms of traditionally prepared teachers.
  • Traditional preparation programs have failed miserably with preparing teachers to serve in rural and urban high-poverty communities. TFA and other programs like it,  have attracted students who want to teach in these types of settings, and they provide training for corps members specifically aimed at meeting the unique learning needs of students in high-poverty communities. Research suggests that they are doing an okay job at it.
TFA is helping to change the national conversation around teacher preparation. Like any program, it has areas for improvement, but TFA is an important addition to the educator preparation landscape in the US. It has made valuable contributions to ongoing conversations about high quality educator preparation and the teaching profession. And if we want to be completely honest, if traditional preparation programs were doing such an outstanding job of preparing and placing teachers in high poverty communities, there would not have been a need for for alternatives.

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