Should Students Say No to Teach for America in Minnesota?

“If a university enrolls and charges students to study in degree programs to become teachers or learn about education, is it odd for the same institution to partner with an organization that helps people avoid just that kind of education?” –Source

A group of graduate students from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota recently tackled this very question and responded with a resounding no. In a statement posted in early July, graduate students protested strongly against a partnership between the University of Minnesota and Teach for America. Teach for America is a program which places recent graduates and professionals in low-incomes schools for two years with five weeks of training. According to the website, this past academic year alone saw 10,000 corps members in classrooms around the country. Ten students sought to block the proposed partnership for several reasons (taken from the website):

  1. The partnership will contribute to the increasing precarity and contingency of teachers, graduate students, and faculty.
  2. TFA contribute to student inequity more than resisting it.
  3. TFA is NOT accessible to teachers of color and teachers from working class backgrounds.
  4. TFA works against our visions of education.

Beyond just these points raised, TFA is also a point of contention in the Minnesota legislature. Despite the fact the legislature allowed the Minnesota Board of Teaching to approve alternative licensure programs in 2011, Teach for America has suffered a few maladies. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton vetoed $1.5 million in state funding due to concerns over revenue and how TFA was selected for the state grant. In June, the Minnesota Teaching Board voted to deny a group license variance to TFA. This means that applications need to be filled out for those teachers who do not following normal licensing requirements. Both of these setbacks indicate withholding of support for an entity which traditionally held great support among policymakers.

Although I do find the points above interesting, I have a few questions and concerns of my own.

  1. If these education students feel this way about Teach for America and how it threatens the traditional teacher education model, then how do they feel about ESL? One does not need to become a certified educator to teach internationally; indeed, one typically only needs a bachelors degree. Like TFA, ESL positions often extend only one to two years.
  2. What about retention rates? A recent study conducted by Education Week indicated that about two-thirds of TFA corps members stay longer than their expected two years. This significantly lessens five years out, but many ex-TFA teachers still are in the education field.
  3. What about students who had not thought about education as an option in their undergraduate careers? College students are still in their formative years, even after graduation. TFA presents one option for graduates to gain professional experience. Perhaps they will discover they enjoy teaching, maybe not. It is certainly a learning and exploratory opportunity for these students.
  4. I emphatically agree that short-term placements in low-income areas means a revolving door of teachers going in and out, and that is not an ideal situation. On the other hand, I would liken TFA to AmeriCorps, another organization which focuses on short-term placements. I’d surmise many people who enter such organizations do so with the realization that there is no expected permanency. TFA represents a stepping-stone to starting or furthering an education career, not that teachers would stay in one place for a long time.
  5. Just because a student possesses a degree in math or history or graphic arts does not necessarily mean he or she would not make a good teacher. Working on the job sometimes is the best experience. Furthermore, who is to say that those who receive education degrees actually intend on teaching? I feel that the territorial nature of this statement does not necessarily cover other facets of the TFA issue as a whole.

Overall, I am not expressing agreement or disagreement to Teach for America as a whole. I am merely venturing my opinion on an isolated instance. I find it a fascinating topic of conversation and certainly a topic worthy of debate. Below are other articles I’ve referenced in my research of the topic:

Ingeno, Lauren. “Saying No to Teach for America.” Inside Higher Ed (2 July 2013).

Timmerman, Michelle B. “TFA: A Corporate Approach.” The Harvard Crimson (11 September 2011).

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