The San Francisco Board of Education is considering not renewing its contract with Teach For America and needs testimonials in order to do so. I have written publicly before about my experience with TFA, and decided to put that into work today when I emailed the San Francisco Board of Education. This is what I wrote them:
To the San Francisco Board of Education,
My name is Annie Tan- I was a 2011 Teach For America Corps member in Chicago and I am staunchly against a renewal of TFA’s contract in San Francisco. I believe TFA does more harm than good for school systems all over the nation, including in San Francisco, and to renew their contract would be irresponsible and unethical for the district.
I came into Teach For America in 2011 thinking, with my traditionally-trained background in elementary education (not special education), I would be able to teach special education well through the training and resources TFA would provide. Unfortunately, I found my five-week training process to have very little to do with special education at all, TFA resources lacking, and as a result I was a very weak TFA special education teacher. I was also placed in a charter school setting where 2/3rds of the teachers were TFA corps members or alumni. The running joke at my school was that a 3rd-year teacher was a “veteran”- as a current third-year teacher, I would never call myself a veteran teacher. Moreover, I got very little mentoring help from the organization and little help from the special education teachers in my building, who were similarly overworked. Going to grad school at night to get my initial teaching certification in special education made my days long, as I started off 7:30am and finally finished at 9:30pm 3 days a week. This took its toll on me mentally and physically, where I felt ashamed for not being able to make the progress I wanted in my classroom and exhausted each and every day.
I am a teacher today despite my time with Teach For America, not because of TFA. After teaching at a charter school for a year, teaching five grade levels of special education, going to graduate school at the same time, while learning my new city of Chicago, I was fired from the charter school. I respected and expected that, as I was not a good teacher (yet)- what I did not expect was that Teach For America would let me go from their program as well. I thought, as an organization that supported education, that TFA would try to build up its teachers, place me at another school, and that it would try to get me more resources to succeed. Instead, the organization let me go, citing that the charter school had indeed given me enough support. I still find that extremely problematic, that an organization claiming to be devoted to education would not support its teachers in succeeding, especially as I had given as much as I could to be a good teacher at the school. I am fortunate that I still wanted to teach, as I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was six years old. I knew I needed more training, so after being let go from TFA I got my master of arts in teaching special education and am currently a third-year teacher in Chicago Public Schools. I am collaborative with other teachers and see the value in meeting with veteran teachers- TFA’s mindset was to pit us against these good veteran teachers, and was generally unhelpful. Most of all, I now have the knowledge, skills set, and training to feel comfortable teaching students with autism and other disabilities. I certainly did not have or get these skills or knowledge sets through TFA.
Many former corps members came to and left Chicago after two or three years, and their students continue to have rotating staff. This is not ethical or right for our students. I was told in my first DAY of teaching by a student, “Ms. Tan, will you be our teacher next year?” That will forever haunt me, that I contributed to that student’s crop of rotating teachers. That student knew there was a high likelihood that I would leave, which affected our student/teacher relationship over time. That also affected her own self-esteem and self-worth as a student who deserved loving, experienced teachers who continue to stay in a school and build school culture. I am working hard to redeem myself and stay in teaching. This also becomes hard as I work in a school that does hire TFA teachers- TFA teachers’ knowledge leaves when they leave after two years’ time. I would love if my school district prioritized some of the 2,000+ new and veteran teachers who have been laid off in Chicago over the 250+ TFA corps members who contribute to attrition across Chicago Public Schools. Perhaps then we might see attrition rates of teachers drop over time and build up our schools.
I know that TFA seems like an attractive option, and I know that big donors and corporations may be putting pressure to renew a TFA contract, but in my experience, and with talking with other corps members, the benefits do not outweigh the costs of TFA. I know very few fellow 2011 corps members that are still teaching today- and the costs of training teachers, getting them accustomed to the school culture and environment, and investing in your city are huge. At the end of the day, this is about our students- and they continue to get rotating teachers, from an organization that doesn’t prize teachers staying in the profession. I hope you consider my points as you consider renewing or not renewing TFA’s contract with your municipality. Thank you for reading.
3rd-year special education teacher in Chicago Public Schools
MAT Special Education 2013
TFA Chicago corps member, 2011-12 (one year)
What can you do? Email the San Francisco Board of Education with YOUR reasons why you don’t want TFA in San Francisco!
You can email school board members and Superintendent Carranza. Please copy emails to compile complaints/feedback at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you decide to email, please keep it professional and informative.