Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 23 2013

TFA Subunits…or, Why Saying “I Hate TFA” Needs Further Specification

Little known TFA factoid: each region is its own animal, more than you might expect. What do I mean by that?

Well, first of all there are a lot of differences from region to region. Some regions have the hiring-TFAers-while-pink-slipping-others situation going on, and some (like mine) have 10% teaching vacancies all year, even with TFA corps members in classrooms. Some regions have 1,000 new teachers each year, and some are struggling to even bring 40 new teachers each year (like mine). Some place mostly in charter schools, and some (like mine) place entirely in public or Bureau of Indian Education schools. Some place all within the same city, or same area, and some (like mine, and many rural regions) have placement regions that span multiple states and thousands of square miles. Some have a staff of a hundred people and nobody listens to you. Some (like mine) have a staff of 7 people, and everyone knows your name. When people say they hate the way TFA does XYZ, odds are really, really good that not every region does XYZ.

Also, each region has a certain flexibility to do things in a way that makes sense for their region and context. And, at least in my region, that means they are REALLY open to explaining things, asking for feedback, and changing the way they do things to be…well…better.

For example, the content of our All-Corps professional development meetings changes for each one to fit the feedback that TFA staff is getting from teachers as to what they feel like they need, and also how they felt the last one went.

Another example: they just created a job within TFA staff to help corps members understand the importance and the practical side of connecting with families and the community. As a region, we said that this is something we don’t feel we’re doing great with (I sure don’t), and so here is someone who is both from this region and a former corps member, who is uniquely skilled to help people bridge that gap. As a region, even in the two short years I’ve been here, TFA has changed the way they do things a lot, because they are trying to address what people tell them are shortcomings they have noticed.

I have also been really impressed with the complete transparency and openness of TFA staff here. Our staff is completely honest about how and why they do things the way they do, even if it has meant telling hard truths. If they don’t know, they say so. I have never asked a question of a TFA staffer and felt like they beat around the bush trying to mold the real answer into a more favorable answer.

Do I love everything we do at TFA events? No. Do I always feel like TFA professional development is helpful for where I’m at right now and what I think I need? Nope. I think our region is doing some things really well, and others not so well. But I wanted to share my experience and what I’ve found here because I feel like the I Hate TFA voices are often louder than the voices of moderation.

I also feel like TFA lovers and haters alike fall into the habit of discussing “TFA” as if it were one solid unit. I do it too, because it’s a really, really hard habit to break. The truth is that TFA as a national organization is made up of many smaller units at the regional level, each one very different from another. Some of the biggest complaints people have about Teach For America are simply not true in all regions. Some of the things I think are the best parts of my region are not true in other regions. It is messier and much harder to work with, especially when universally revering or condemning it, but when you’re talking about an organization made of a multitude of different subunits scattered across a country as vast and variable as ours is, you can’t always generalize.



End note, related: If you’re a TFA corps member reading this, PLEASE give your feedback to TFA staff! We too often hate on things from the inside and never speak up, when things might have changed if we’d just said it out loud.


3 Responses

  1. Agreed! Everything is regional! There were 10 individuals from my college class of 367 and our experiences were extremely different depending upon where we were placed. Generally, the CMs in the larger regions had a more difficult time than those of us in cohorts of 50 or less.

  2. Atl CM

    That is an interesting observation, Mr. Morgan! And thank you for your post, eminnm. I often wondered what TFA would’ve looked like for me in another region. I taught in Atlanta and was surprised during induction that our corps was really different than TFA nationally. Not only did many people attend college in Atlanta, but many shared the racial background of most of our students (we mostly taught African American students, though with placing CMs in more regions that is changing a bit) and/or were “non-traditional” corps members (career changers). I felt very much outside at first, and let’s be honest…I was an outsider!

  3. Britney

    I hope you are not talkin about south Dakota! What former corps member who is from the community is now working as staff? This region has a lot to do to become a better region. Considering most of the opinions are coming from non-native corps members who can’t recognize their own privilege if it bit them in the face.

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