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A Note About the Book ‰Û÷Teach For America Counter-Narratives'

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Over the last two years, as Teach For America approached the 25-year mark, we talked to a lot of people about our path forward. We're proud of the impact we're having, but like any organization, we always have room to grow. We held hundreds of conversations with corps members, alumni, students, parents, staff members, and community members. Each of these individuals shared valuable perspectives on our work and on what it will take for our country to provide a great public education for every child. These conversations weren't always easy, but the ideas that came out of them led us to a clear path: strengthen our regional efforts; re-imagine our program to better support the leadership of corps members and alumni; be straightforward about our experiences and beliefs and strengthen our relationships with the many leaders and institutions that share the vision of educational equity; and continue to build an ever-more diverse and inclusive teaching corps.

It's still early in some of this work, and we understand if alumni haven't yet felt the start of these shifts in their own experience. In particular, a small group of former corps members involved in the book Teach For America Counter-Narratives have chosen to focus on past experiences that are not in line with how we operate. We're growing and evolving, in large part because of the real-time corps member and alumni feedback that helps us to get better. It's not productive to address in this space every critique in this book, but after reviewing a copy we received from the publisher, here's what we have to say about some of the contributors' bigger misconceptions.

We remain a strong advocate of the public school system. Two out of three TFA corps members work in traditional district schools. We have a history of working with innovative and effective public charter school systems, but we do not prefer any one mode of school governance. Our only agenda is to make sure that all kids have access to a great public education.

Our program exists to meet local demand for teachers and long-term education leaders, and principals tell us that they appreciate having an additional source of diverse teaching talent. Our current teaching corps includes graduates of more than 850 colleges and universities. One in three are the first in their families to attend college; 49 percent identify as people of color; and 47 percent come from a low-income background. TFA alumni share the corps experience, but they also bring diverse personal experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives to the table. We trust them to advocate for students in low-income communities in the way they personally see fit.

Our growth over time has been driven by this local demand. This year, as we scaled back the size of our corps in response to a slower recruiting landscape, we saw the demand for TFA corps members and alumni reach an all-time high. Given the undeniable impact our work is having in classrooms and communities, we have an important role to play in the larger movement for educational equity.

We've developed thousands of leaders for this movement, which is making real progress for low-income children and children of color—hundreds of public schools, including many run by TFA alumni, are sending most of their students from low-income families to college—but we know this work is just beginning. As an organization that works to develop leaders who see and understand the potential in each and every child, we believe it's fiscally responsible to build an endowment.  When our country has true equity in our education system, the need for educational leadership won't diminish.

We've made a lot of progress as an organization over the past 25 years, and we're optimistic about the path we're on. We encourage alumni to get in touch with us at tfamily@teachforamerica.org to learn more about our efforts and to offer feedback and ideas. We're proud of our work, and we continue to be inspired by all that our 50,000 corps members and alumni are doing to make a difference for kids.

These corps members and alumni have 50,000 individual stories about Teach For America. This book contains 20 of them. Below are 20 more individual stories—a small sampling of the thousands of corps members, alumni, students, and local partners who value their experience with TFA:

Changing Cleveland Classrooms for the Better

How Would Mr. Haskell Inspire Students?

How a Teacher Saved My Life

We Can Teach Our Kids That They Matter

New Teachers Thank Mentors

Sisters and Second-Generation Teachers in New Orleans

Parents Open Doors to Education

Teachers Are Community Members—Not Just Instructors

Great Teachers Matter Greatly

Let's Stop Criticizing Teach For America and Learn From What They Do Well

Oklahoma City Teacher: Empower the Future: Teach

My Daughter Chose Teaching, Knowing the Hurdles

I Will No Longer Hide Like My Teachers Did

Choosing a Teaching Career

Teach For America Native Alliance Initiative: Bridging Worlds Through STEM (p. 22)

Three Things I Learned From Teach For America

AAPI Role Models Matter

Why I'm Going Back Into Teaching

Teach For America Is an Additional Pathway

Dancing to Learn (and Heal) in New York City