Sunday afternoon Student-Worker Solidarity and Columbia Prison Reform and Education Project hosted a panel titled “The Truth About Teach For America.” The panel featured guests from both educational backgrounds as well as parents from the New York public school system who have had first hand experience with the school system TFA targets to fix with its program. Education Enthusiast Courtney Couillard went to check it out.
The presentation began with each of the panelists describing their individual experience with TFA and/or the public school system of New York. A former TFA member and graduate of Barnard College, Rachel Knight, described a inadequate experience with the program as a recent post-grad from Barnard. Knight admitted the program was an alluring way to spend her time while discovering her passion for being a teacher. What began as a promising and uplifting five-week training session, her time with TFA quickly turned into a traumatizing and stifling experience. Knight explained she did not feel prepared by TFA to enter into a New York public school to teach her first grade class with just two days to prepare and set up her classroom. Her biggest fear as a teacher in TFA was not being prepared to help students with serious disabilities and needs, and she wished that it was made more clear to her by TFA that teaching is a profession, not just a something you get into after college with little experience.
Another former educator from New York, Brian Jones, shared his own experience as a young teacher in New York in his own cousin program to TFA, NYC Teaching Fellows Program. Jones echoed the sentiments of Knight, recalling how painful his experience was in regards to not being able to meet the needs of his Harlem-resident students. Jones also dived into what he called the real question we should ask when creating proposals for education reform: “would this strengthen the hand of the employers or would this strengthen the hand of the labor?” Jones believed that the real issue with education is the fact that it is controlled by economic policy. Teachers are the most unionized group in America, meaning that many education decisions target teachers and will aim to weaken the hand of the unions. Jones tied this back to TFA by saying the program focuses on spending extra money on recruiting teachers through the program rather than investing in the public school system.