To the Editor:
I read with great sadness and indignation Sarah Sentilles’ indictment of Teach for America (“A Teacher’s Enlightenment,”Commentary, Sept. 7, 2005). Her complaint with the organization, she says, is that folks who enter Teach for America are simply there to pad their résumés, and then move on to what they “really want to do” after two years of service. She also characterizes TFA recruits as young adults from wealthy (white) families who have, in her words, “no awareness of their privilege.”
While these critiques may accurately describe motivations for entering teaching and may explain her inability to find success in the classroom, she would be wise not to generalize her experience to that of the thousands of other teachers who have successfully served in Teach for America—especially because the diversity of TFA members is the envy of any professional recruiter (approximately one-third minority, over one-half women, all with stellar academic credentials).
Ms. Sentilles also poses a philosophical complaint that there are better ways to prepare teachers, and that long-term solutions for the teacher shortage are necessary. It is hardly logical to blame this on Teach for America. To my knowledge, the existence of Teach for America doesn’t preclude any of the needed reforms she describes.
My final objection to her characterization of TFA teachers is that it just doesn’t square with my observations. I lead a school in our nation’s third-poorest county, and over one-fourth of the faculty members are alumni of Teach for America who have made a long-term commitment to education. Students in these teachers’ classrooms have closed the achievement gap, are on track for college success, and consistently out-achieve their peers in more affluent communities.
It is also my experience that these teachers are exceptional at relating to young people and are embraced by the families we serve.
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Comments on TFA Missed the Mark