Jersey Goes South

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 29 2013

Am I a Scab?

Well, there’s a question I never in a million years thought I would have to ask myself. Yet, it’s the question that has been keeping me up at night and made me come back to blogging about my TFA experiences after over a year away.

So, am I? Am I a scab? A union breaker? What if, even more than that, I’m contributing to the privatization of public education? Just by…being a public school teacher?

But that’s the issue. I’m not just a public school teacher. I’m also a Teach For America 2012 Corps Member. And right now, that means a lot more than my title of “teacher.” Because now, more than ever, public education is under attack. And one of the organizations that’s been named as a front runner of the opposition is Teach For America.

Now, I educated myself on TFA before I started. I knew that it was an self described  leadership organization, not education. I knew they supported and encouraged the charter school movement, and that the co-founders of the nation’s largest charter school network (Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP) were TFA alums. I knew that this was the organization who had turned Michelle Rhee loose on DC schools. I knew that TFA was not the answer to our public education woes; at best, it was a band-aid slowly peeling away from the wound, and at worst it was an infection that was making our wound go from bad to worse.

Yet, I still chose to do it. It was a way to start teaching. It would give me credibility later on in life when/if I chose to go into education policy. It was a way to turn my theoretical work on education inequalities into practice.

And I love my job. I love teaching for better or for worse, and I love my kids – even when they are acting out due to their twelve year old middle school hormones. I love my curriculum, and I’ve spent hours and hours this summer planning units and creating performance tasks.  My principal supports and believes in his staff 110% and all of my colleagues are amazing.  And not a single one of my coworkers view me as a scab.

Because I’m not.  I live and work in Eastern North Carolina, in one of the poorest and most rural counties in the state.  I’m not a scab because, first and foremost, North Carolina is a “right to work” state.  “Right to work” as in, “lack of workers’ rights” state.  Second reason I know I’m not a scab?  There is a very serious teacher shortage in Eastern North Carolina.  There are school districts that would probably be forced to close if not for TFA.  I’ve seen classrooms in my school staffed by long term substitutes for months because our administration could not find replacement teachers.

I am fortunate enough to be in a TFA region where we are still living out the original purpose of the organization.  TFA is putting people into classrooms that otherwise may not have a qualified teacher.  Was my Institute training adequate?  No.  Am I better than the alternative in my region?  Yes, I think so.  But I still wonder if, just by being associated with Teach For America, I am contributing to the devaluing of American teachers and the demise of public education.  How can I be a TFA CM who underwent five weeks of training and consider myself in the same ranks as people who go through five years of training in a traditional program?  And how can I say that I’m not devaluing the traditional teachers, when the entire premise of Teach For America is essentially that they can take people who have no formal education training and put them in classrooms, and they will be just as good as those who have gone through traditional programs?

At the end of the day, I consider myself a teacher. And it sucks spending hours creating performance tasks and completing assignments for online classes to continue my teacher education, only to read another article or Facebook comment about how I’m not a “real” teacher, I’m a scab, I’m adding to the racist and classist policies of our current system.

All I want to do is teach my kids in good faith. And I feel like that’s being taken from me because of Teach For America.

15 Responses

  1. Maybe tourniquet is a better metaphor than band-aid. Temporarily stops the bleeding, but can kill the limb in the process?

  2. Patricia Craig

    How do you know that there was not a teacher for your position or that a teacher was not run out of that job? You and those like you are now the competition for our jobs.

    • jersey

      I can’t ever know with 100% certainty whether would have been another qualified teacher for my position. But I feel confident there probably would not have been, after seeing my principal down months during te year looking for a new math teacher. I understand that in many areas, TFA teachers are the ‘competition,’ but I honestly do not believe that I am competing for jobs in ENC. We are still filling a very real need for teachers.

  3. Shannon

    I think this blog makes a valid point: TFA differs greatly from region to region. And in your region, the need is great. It’s just another reason why people shouldn’t make blanket statements about “ALL”…of anything.

    Especially considering the areas of great need, I do believe TFA should give the corps more say in where they want to teach. If someone verbalizes they’d rather be placed in such an area, as opposed to somewhere like Chicago, I can’t see where it would do TFA any harm to honor this request.

    • jersey

      I’ve found that the people who are most adamantly opposed to TFA are the ones who either don’t understand or don’t care that regions vary so much. You never really hear people complaining about TFA in the Delta or Appalachia because, let’s face it, there aren’t that many people willing to relocate there so it doesn’t matter to them.

      I also agree that TFA should give it’s incoming corps members more of a say as to what region they wind up in. I also think it would be great if, instead of putting such an overwhelmingly positive spin on everything, they were more honest with incoming CMs about how many traditionally certified teachers were out of work and looking in each region.

      What are your thoughts on the people calling for TFA to pull it’s new CMs out of Chicago over the layoffs?

  4. mches

    Thank you for sharing this!

    • mches

      I’m going to reply to myself to inflate your comment stats and because that’s just my style, but I feel like you’re raising an interesting point. When TFA goes into places like Chicago and Philly, they undermine the work that you and other TFA teachers do where there is a need for teachers, where a Band-Aid is actually useful. I think a more ardent TFA hater than myself would wonder if such short-term solutions are ever necessary, but the need for teachers in rural areas is very real and there are no silver bullet solutions for recruiting and keeping them there.

      • Anon

        Didymath, I think you are somewhat mistaken. When TFA went into Chicago and Philly, Chicago and Philly urban low-income schools had teacher shortages just as severe as Eastern North Carolina has now. TFA has never entered into a district where there weren’t shortages at the time of entry. Now that TFA supports nearly 50 regions, it’s not surprising that in any given year a handful of regions might not suffer from the same teacher shortages they historically suffered from – the ones that beckoned TFA to come and serve the community – but it’s not fair to state that TFA goes to places like Chicago and Philly knowing there wouldn’t be teacher shortages there to fill. You may be more cynical than you let on.

        Consider this. TFA has been in Chicago for 13 years and Philly for 10. It was brought in by donors who were concerned about the education system and chronic teacher shortages. Nobody was complaining about TFA teachers being “scabs” in 2001, 2003, 2005 or 2007 when TFA was growing in Chicago and Philly. Both those regions have staff that have developed deep relationships in both cities with all kinds of stakeholders, from children and parents to teachers to principals to university partners. Both those regions have accumulated tremendous institutional knowledge – learning from countless mistakes in their early years and becoming more effective over time.

        There was a reason those districts had teacher shortages. The drivers behind those historic shortages (you know what they are) have not gone away. The reason there is not currently a pronounced teacher shortage in Chicago and Philly TFA places is because of the recession. Less economic prosperity means less government revenue mean less money to hire teachers and less money for local DOE bureaucracy (retired teachers losing their district jobs and going back into the classroom). The recession is temporary (I hope), not permanent, and it’s becoming clear that austerity does not work. The teacher shortages of yesterday are likely to come backs soon.

        This is just my opinion, but it would be irresponsible of TFA to shut down it’s doors and stop functioning in those regions because of something that is temporary. Irresponsible to its donors, irresponsible to it’s university partners, irresponsible to its principals, irresponsible to the community. You can’t just turn a non-profit resource like that on and off just because of the state of the economy – it burns money and demotivates everyone.

        Imagine if TFA Chicago just shut down and turned it’s back on everyone that had supported it’s entry into Chicago. What kind of message would that send about TFA’s commitment to the communities in which it serves?

        • mches

          Anon,
          I’m sorry, I was not clear in my earlier comment. I did not mean to say that TFA’s initial forays into Chicago and Philly were absent teacher shortages, nor did I intend to suggest that TFA would project a labor surplus at some date in the future to be determined. To clarify, “When TFA goes into places like Chicago and Philly” should be “As TFA continues to place teachers in regions like Chicago and Philly…”

          I don’t know how deep a relationship TFA has formed with Chicago when so many are calling for their heads. Unless you believe CTU and their supporters are far removed from public opinion in Chicago. You sound like someone with inside information, so I’ll take your word for it that many people would be upset if TFA was gone.

          I don’t mean to be blithe, but I’m not concerned about what TFA’s donors or university partners would think if TFA left Chicago. What’s more important than TFA’s reputation is whether or not they are serving a need. Maybe turning TFA on and off in these regions is a bad idea. Let’s just turn it off then. It doesn’t seem prudent to have hundreds of CM’s in a region in which the economy’s flux necessarily means crowding out veteran educators in times of budget shortfall (even when TFA is getting additional monies during said shortfall). If turning it off is not an option, then turn it way down.

          • I would differentiate between, in the absence of teacher shortages, suspending placing NEW CMs in a region and “turning off” the region’s TFA program altogether. The regional office could continue to support already-placed CMs. TFA could also explore the option of diversifying in those regions and placing CMs in roles other than that of classroom teacher as an alternative, if they wished to keep the regional office alive without being “scabs.”

          • mches

            Parus proving once more that she should post more and I should post less. Hint hint.

  5. Pam

    This is a very thoughtful post and I commend you for writing it. I fully supported TFA back in the days where there were difficulties getting teachers. I think Teach for America now has an unbelievable arrogance in it’s mission to improve education as if teachers currently working in public schools don’t have a clue what they are doing. That being said, generally, I don’t fault the corps members. They truly believe they are going into help students.

  6. Jaye

    I’ve found myself in a moral dilemma, and I would like some insight.

    I am working on my application for the 2013-14 corps. Indeed, my preferred region is Chicago, where I live. I already have found myself contemplating the evils of this, with the massive school closures and teacher layoffs.

    What’s different? I’m an elementary education major. Whether or not I am accepted to TFA, I will be teaching, ideally in CPS. I am applying because I know that it would give me a competitive edge, as well as guarantee a job for two years.

    I will have completed a traditional 4-year teacher prep program, and I have already passed all of the necessary tests in Illinois for licensure.

    I find myself torn because, on one hand, I vehemently disagree with TFA politics, at least in areas without legitimate teacher shortages (like Chicago). However, what I would be doing as a corps member is the same as what I would be doing anyway, given the choice.

    While there is no guarantee I would even be accepted, I still find myself conflicted as to whether I should even submit the application. If I am accepted, I receive the benefits, the job security, and naturally, the resume booster. However, I feel like I’m trying to make a deal with the devil.

    Any thoughts?

    • You’re considering joining and supporting an organization you fundamentally disagree with in order to bypass the hiring procedures other candidates need to go through. Whether that’s something you can in do good conscience depends on you, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s a particularly complex ethical problem, the only question is whether you believe extingency outweighs the abstract morals.

      TFA is not necessarily going to be good for your bottom line compared to starting as a “normal” teacher, though; you’ll be paying out of pocket for the non-optional postbac programs they channel you into and for Institute-related expenses. And when you’re done with your two years, if you wish to continue working in Chicago, you’ll no longer have the TFA shield, and you’ll be working in a district where TFA is resented by many. These are things you should probably include in your calculus.

      • Also, there’s no guarantee they’ll even place you in Chicago.

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About this Blog

Jersey girl moving south for TFA

Region
Eastern North Carolina
Grade
Elementary School
Subject
Elementary Education

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