Teaching Profession

Three TFA Teachers Resign After Leak of Offensive Messages About Students

By Madeline Will — June 23, 2016 2 min read
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Three Teach for America teachers have resigned from a Rhode Island charter school after their expletive-filled messages calling students “idiots” and other insults were leaked.

According to the Providence Journal, a Google Doc was emailed out on Monday to the Blackstone Valley Prep school community (including students) from a teacher whose email had been hacked. (It’s not clear if this teacher was involved with the messages, but the school said he did not intentionally share them). The Google Doc included 18 pages of screenshots of messages exchanged on Slack, a messaging app. The Journal obtained the screenshots, and is not identifying the names of the teachers. Some excerpts:

Man I wish we could hit them," writes one teacher. Another responds, "Move to Arizona ... Start your own charter and commence with the flogging." She responds: "lol" "HE IS FAILING FIVE CLASSES," writes one teacher. Another responds, "[Expletive]IDIOT. Let him know if he [expletive] up again he will be in my HR. And I will not be so pleasant."

Earlier this week, a 15-year-old student, Hudson Deighan, and her father provided the screenshots to the Providence Journal because Hudson herself was criticized in the messages. Hudson struggles with spelling and worked with one of the teachers on editing—she said he was never mean about her mistakes and she thought she had a good personal relationship with him. But then:

In a message time stamped June 14 10:13 a.m. on one screenshot -- which aligns with one of Hudson's weekly meetings with her mentor, she said -- the teacher writes: "Here's how Hudson spelled Ta-Nehisi Coates: Tonahese quotes."
Minutes later, another teacher responds: "[expletive] idiot."
When I saw my name I just started crying," Hudson said, exhaling. "I thought I was straightforward with him and he'd be straightforward with me. But I guess he just doesn't like me, and I guess none of the teachers like me at all."

The school launched an investigation into the messages, suspended the teachers, and after confirming that the allegations were true, accepted their resignations, the Journal reported. Further disciplinary measures could be taken, since the school has not completed its investigation.

In a statement provided to the Journal, Teach for America said the teachers’ actions were “not reflective of Teach For America’s core values that we expect our teachers to uphold.” The organization added that it fully supports Blackstone Valley Prep’s actions to address the teachers’ conduct and that the teachers had been suspended from TFA as well.

But TFA critics have seized on the incident to slam the organization for what they say is inadequate training. Diane Ravitch, the education writer and activist, wrote on her blog that “no experienced teacher would have done something so stupid.”

To be fair, there have been countless instances of teachers of all levels of experiences behaving badly on social media, so it’s difficult to attribute this incident to a systemic flaw within TFA’s model. But critics like Ravitch say that the five-to-seven weeks of summer training TFA teachers receive before stepping into a classroom isn’t anywhere close to the rigorous training received by students who graduate from teacher preparation programs.

In recent years, TFA has slowly de-centralized the organizational model, allowing its regional programs to choose to extend training or add certain components, like social-emotional learning, to the training curriculum.

But despite criticism that TFA needs to better prepare its teachers to engage with the diverse communities they are placed in, the organization recently announced that it was ending a pilot program that gave some of its recruits an additional year of training on social justice topics.

The organization has said that it plans to use feedback from the pilot in its training for new recruits.

More on the criticisms and the future of TFA:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.