Letter to the Editor:Moving beyond misguided generalizations of Teach for America

Oz Fishman (CCAS ‘16), Jon Carfagno (CCAS ‘14), and Rachael Abram (CCAS ‘14), are 2013-14 Campus Campaign Coordinators for Teach for America.

In a Dec. 5 Hatchet article (“Despite criticism, Teach for America remains hotbed for GW graduates”), Graduate School of Education and Human Development Dean Michael Feuer voiced sharp criticisms of Teach For America. We don’t challenge his expertise or knowledge in education, but we’d like to address some common misconceptions about the organization.

Feuer categorized Teach For America as a program that allows anyone to walk into a classroom and begin a solid teaching career. He believes “you graduated from college, you did well, you’re energetic. Boom, you’re teaching Algebra to a bunch of eighth graders who parents are shooting dope and go figure.”

Teach for America sends corps members to 48 different low-income communities nationwide. Living in a low income community does not mean your parents “shoot dope.” It means just that – the incomes of the members of your community are low.

In our work, we actively seek out potential teachers that don’t subscribe to negative generalizations, but instead believe in the potential of every child regardless of their challenges outside the classroom. It’s disheartening to see educational leadership stifle conversation about what’s best for the children of the U.S. What we really need is to promote, not disparage students working to change things.

Teach For America has often been called a band-aid solution to a larger problem. It’s actually the contrary – the program has a two-part approach. We first send teachers into classrooms, but where they go after is just as important. This is not a quick fix problem – and neither is our solution. Our alumni constantly prove their dedication to education: 34 percent stay in the classroom and over 60% work in education.

To be clear, TFA does not aim to replace the amazing work that strong, traditional education programs do across the nation. We comprise just 10,000 of the millions of American educators. But when we think about the 96% of our alumni that continue to fight for children in poverty, we can clearly see there’s a need being met by our program that wouldn’t otherwise be taken care of.

TFA is not perfect. Nonetheless, many studies prove the academic successes of Teach For America. One 2012 study by the Harvard Strategic Data Project shows that first-year TFA corps members are more effective than other first-year teachers in promoting students’ growth in mathematics and reading in third through ninth grade. Numerous other studies show similar results.

Many of TFA’s criticisms are legitimate, and they work hard to improve every day. Being a first-year teacher is hard, no matter your background. And yes, it is impossible to give someone a fully adequate training as a teacher in just one summer. But the need for the children of this nation is great enough that there are people willing to brave those circumstances to deliver the future leaders of our country an education they deserve, regardless of their zip code. And it is them we should be applauding.

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