For many TFA corps members and alums, the blog network Teach For Us is the place to blog about their own experiences. For TFUs’ readers, which include prospective corps members, current corps members, their friends and family, alumni, and yes, TFA staff, TFUs is the place to hear about what’s happening in classrooms and schools across the country. We posed a few questions to Adam Geller, the founder of Teach For Us, about his remarkable project.
You founded Teach For Us in 2006. How did you get the idea for the site?
Adam Geller: I came up with the idea for Teach For Us when I started as a TFA corps member. People were encouraging me to send an update email about my experience in the corps, yet I knew that receiving email updates is somewhat annoying. In fact, the subject line I actually used for the email was "One of those annoying 'this is what I'm doing' emails." The people on the other end can't tell you that they don't want to read it anymore. Additionally, emails can only reach a limited, closed audience.
I was also sure that there were likely many other corps members who were trying to document and share their stories like I was. But there wasn’t really a place for those stories to exist, and there definitely wasn’t a place to share those stories together.
What were you trying to achieve when you started TFUs?
Geller: I had a belief that our collective voices about the Teach For America experience could resonate louder on the internet if gathered together.
I knew the power of telling an experience through the lens of an individual person’s story. I wanted for TFUs to become the place where someone could read the powerful stories about what it was really like to be a Teach For America teacher.
Corps members and alums have been posting on TFUs for six years! Have you seen any changes in the tone and content of the posts from 2006 to now? What makes the posts on TFUs so affecting and powerful?
Geller: In some ways, I don't think Teach For Us has changed much in its content. It's always been a place for open and honest sharing about the realities of the Teach For America experience. It's all the good and all the bad all in one place.
I think the word “raw” feels a bit cliché, but I think it’s accurate. Teach For Us has a quality of realness and authenticity because it is truly a place for the voice of one person and his or her individual story.
One post from an early blogger, Ms Math, really resonated with me, and I think it represents well the exciting nature of the content on our site. It was a post at the end of her two-year commitment:
"3 days of teaching to go. My room is bare, stripped down by a class of Algebra students who would much rather clean than do math after a day of final exams. The students don’t know how to react to the lack of color. i don’t know how to react to the bare blue walls. I left up my posters over the summer; it hasn’t looked like this since the day I walked in. The tiny, hot, windowless room is more my home than I ever imagined at first glance. How can I be sentimental about something I cursed so many times, my hot little hell hole."
Bloggers on TFUs are unflinchingly honest about the good, bad, and ugly of their experiences. While some bloggers have their own names attached to their blogs, most of them post anonymously. What are some of the pluses and minuses of this anonymity?
Geller: One might argue that the opportunity for anonymity could create opportunities for inappropriate behavior. I'm happy to report that we've never opted to shut down a blog for inappropriate behavior.
I think it’s also important to note that there has never been pressure (from Teach For America) to share the identity of anyone who chooses to remain anonymous. We often get requests to be put in touch with bloggers for various reasons like interviews. However, we don't share anyone's personal information directly. We usually just forward the emails along.
Have you achieved what you’ve set out to achieve? How do you measure the success of Teach For Us?
Geller: Of course we look at numbers (visitors, number of posts, etc.), but I think that really, the measure of our success is in the continued examples of how TFUs is having a positive impact on corps members and alumni and prospective teachers through its existence. So I think about the stories I've heard that happened as a result of posts on TFUs: a person supported after losing her job, or someone's classroom library being filled really quickly because they posted about a need for books on TFUs. Those stories show our success, and those are the type of stories that will continue to come.
Adam Geller was a 2006 corps member in St. Louis and is the founder of Teach For Us. He's currently building Edthena to enable coaching for teachers anytime, anywhere.
Claire D'Silva is an intern at Teach For America.