Teach for America: Putting Collaborative Theory into Practice

I was recently accepted into Teach for America (TFA), and was offered a position in the Greater Nashville region to teach High School or Middle School English (depending on my summer training). After being accepted into a program abroad, I got a deferral, and won’t begin TFA until May of 2015. Even though I know that getting a deferral was the best thing for me, I find myself itching to start TFA—I want to meet my future students, and I want to start getting to know them.

Moreover, I want to learn more about TFA. I thus decided to write about TFA for my final project in my Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing class. I realized that TFA implements many of the theories we’ve read about throughout this semester, and particularly, TFA emphasizes collaboration in order to bring out the potential of students living in poverty-stricken areas in the United States.

TFA is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for a least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States.” Wendy Kopp, based on her 1989 Princeton University undergraduate thesis, founded the organization. Since the charter corps was established in 1990, more than 28,000 members have completed their commitment to TFA. Kopp wrote a book reflecting on the first ten years of the organization entitled “One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way.” In 2011, Kopp released a second book, A Chance To Make History,” outlining what she has learned over the last 20 years working in American education.

TFA recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural communities through the U.S. for the purpose of making an impact and becoming lifelong leaders for educational equity. Corps members attend an intensive five-week summer training program, called the Institute, to prepare for their commitment. TFA teachers are full-fledged faculty members at their respective schools—receiving the normal school district salary and benefits, as well as a modest AmeriCorps “education voucher.” This voucher can be used for credentialing courses, to cover previous student loans or to fund further education aspirations, whether it be during or after the two-year commitment. TFA placed 500 teachers in its first year. The organization then received more than 48,000 applications for its 2012 corps, resulting in 5,800 new corps members in 46 regions.

I want to emphasize that I will be writing this paper from a biased standpoint. I believe wholeheartedly in TFA and it’s success in stimulating improvement and opening doors for students. I will be analyzing the organization of TFA in relation to Theories of Collaboration to stimulate writing improvement. TFA is unique as an institution whose strategy is based primarily on recruiting young college graduates who embody leadership, diversity and passion for equity in education. “We look for individuals who show leadership potential and have other traits that are found in our most successful teachers. Over the past 22 years, we’ve learned that there is no specific personality profile or background that predicts success in the classroom. Our approach to selecting corps members is based on our commitment to student success. We continuously study our teachers to identify the characteristics of those whose students have made the most progress. We’ve discovered that their most distinguishing characteristics are:

  • A deep belief in the potential of all kids and a commitment to do whatever it takes to expand opportunities for students
  • Demonstrated leadership ability and superior interpersonal skills to motivate others
  • Strong achievement in academic, professional, extracurricular, and/or volunteer settings
  • Perseverance in the face of challenges, ability to adapt to changing environments, and a strong desire to do whatever it takes to improve and develop
  • Excellent critical thinking skills, including the ability to accurately link cause and effect and to generate relevant solutions to problems
  • Superior organizational ability, including planning well and managing responsibilities effectively
  • Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences and the ability to work effectively with people from a variety of backgrounds” (Teach For America).

TFA essentially declares that a teacher’s success is based on their personality traits and character, rather than their prior experience. These inherent ideological assumptions on successful teachers defy the typical mentality of our American Educational system, giving preference to seniority—despite student’s failures, or success. I would like to explore this more fully in my final paper. Although I acknowledge there is no universal system that works for every individual student and region, I strongly believe there is need to assimilate the two extremes. There are two discourses going on—that of sticking to tradition and relying on “experienced” teachers versus incorporating youthful minds, to spruce up an outdated ideology. Again, there are always exceptions—not every young teacher who embodies these characteristics will stimulate improvement, and not every experienced teacher grows complacent and stagnant.

I hope this paper will spark my personal TFA journey and help me compose a progressive manifesto, if you will, for future teaching strategies.

Here we go!

 

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