TFA on the record

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So, what are you doing next year? Teach For America will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Merrell Hambleton sat down to hear TFA alumni discus their two years of elementary school bliss.

TFA pencils and Columbia Catering cookies abounded at last night’s Teach For America Alumni Panel. But interested students were a little scarcer– only 14 or so showed up, putting the TFA to non-TFA ratio at about 1:2.

This seemed to simply make the personal attention even more…personal. Many seniors are by now familiar with TFA’s aggressive recruitment tactics– particularly those “please-meet-me-at-Hungarian-to-discuss-your-future”-type emails. Rolling deadlines and loud advertisements (the FINAL TFA deadline is his Friday, f.y.i.) don’t hesitate to play into the collective, indecisive psyche of as-yet-unemployed second semester seniors looking for a chance to give back, or just a decent salary. And recruiters last night were no less direct. During the program, all students got a firm handshake and a “Are you thinking of applying?”

After the initial meet-and-glad-hand, five TFA alumni from a variety of regions spoke enthusiastically about their experience. Keeping in stride with primary rhetoric, “change” was the theme of the hour: alumni stressed the opportunity for students to become “powerful agents for change” and “advocates for social reform.” There was also a constant refrain of “TFA is the most important/meaningful/inspiring thing I’ve ever done.” Of course, this was countered by the unanimous assertion that TFA is also “the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life.” Alumni agreed that “Friday nights are rough” and the experience is, at times, downright “brutal.” One panelist and CC graduate added, “It’s not Columbia…people don’t know how special you are.”

  Though the in-your-face enthusiasm can be a little much at times, there’s no doubt that all of the TFA alumni who showed up shared a genuine passion for their two years in the public education system. And it’s hard to take issue with a program with such good intentions and equally positive results. Columbia students seem to agree. According to the head of New York recruitment, after just two rounds of applications (there are four in all), TFA had accepted 15 Columbia College students and 7 from Barnard.

But it was the final comment of the evening that hinted at the real appeal of TFA for college graduates: “Who wants to be grown up when they’re 22, you know?”



  1. whatever

    they rejected me. fuck those h8terz!

  2. anonymous

    Why someone would willingly teach in a scary, scary ghetto is beyond me.. I guess many people aren't especially rational.

    • Well  

      Why someone would willingly accept a job doing nothing but making rich people richer, when there are children growing up "in scary, scary ghettos," who could seriously benefit from a decent teacher, is beyond me...

      I guess some people aren't especially concerned with anything beyond their tiny, tiny worlds.

    • Jeez

      That has got to be the most juvenile, as well as the most shallow, comment from a Bwogger. If you do not yet realize the import of imparting knowledge to the less privileged, then you should not be in college.

  3. p.s.

    a stressful job like TFA will make you grow up a hell of a lot faster than the carelessness induced by the detached sense of responsibility and thick wallets one finds at cushy jobs on wall street. in my experience, the people who take the latter have a tendency to act more juvenile.

  4. The King of Spain  

    I would say that the kinds of stress put on you if you're a teacher making less than an Olive Garden waiter, having to interact with people who think in a completely different way is a great way will change you a lot more than having a really stressful job in the bubble-like environment of top-tier corporate finance.

    You might hate your life, but you don't have to change yourself, like you do if you're teaching.

    • The King of Spain  

      sorry, I posted by accident.

      I would say that the kinds of stress put on you if you're a teacher making less than an Olive Garden waiter is a totally different kind. Having to interact with people who think in a completely different way will change you a lot more than having a really stressful job in the bubble-like environment of top-tier corporate finance, as will your relative poverty and the poverty you face every day.

      In banking or consultancy, you might hate your busy life, but you don't have to adapt to "real life" nearly as much as if you're doing TFA. Being in front-of-house M&E is hard, but you're still living in the same kind of social greenhouse, even if your boss won't let you bullshit your way through things like your Victorian Literature teacher did.

  5. as someone  

    who wants to teach in a public high school or middle school, I can't muster any love for TFA. everything from the corporate mentality to the individuals attracted to the job make me feel a little queasy. BUT i know 50 people on bwog will yell at me for feeling like this, so that's all i will say.

    • As someone

      Who is currently working as a teacher, I couldn't agree with you more. I am particularly insulted by TFA's idea of teaching as a two year break in between college and "real" life. Teaching is my career, and I think seeing it any other way is doing my students a disservice.

      In any case, a quick plug for the alternative: the Barnard Education program is open to both Columbia and Barnard students and provides intensive teacher training (much more than TFA will ever give), and you graduate already certified to teach in NY state. I would encourage anyone who is serious about teaching to follow this route instead of TFA.

  6. alexw  

    Shouldn't terrible schools be getting BETTER teachers, rather than shitty inexperienced ones?

  7. where's seas?  

    wait, did no seas people get in? or did none apply?

  8. TFA  

    is a band aid solution. And when I told them that, after finally agreeing to meet at the Hungarian, they never contacted me again. :)

  9. whatever  

    all these people are just going to join an investment bank when they're done with their 2 years, so no use in arguing. they aaaaaalllllllll end up in the same place.

  10. thank you  

    all the teach for america corps members for making our public schools better!!

  11. baffled

    I really wish I understood the constant need of every investment banker on here to justify his or her own existence by putting everyone else down.

    I mean, one would almost have to assume that they feel like entirely worthless, soulless wastes of the earth's resources, what with the way they seem to spit venom at everyone else, almost preemptively.

    Oh, wait...

    • Love it  

      I love how people w/ no clue what Investment Bankers do, find a constant need to justify their own careers by being self-righteous and putting down investment bankers as soulless and characterless. I guess you figure that your career will do more for society than mine, even if I do more community service and donate more money to charity than you probably ever will. But I guess that's to be expected; if you were half-intelligent, you would probably be appreciate the role of these banks in the macroeconomic system anyway.

  12. love  

    i love how the only post-graduation options discussed here are finance and TFA. for those not heading straight to grad school, of course. one might almost think i am disturbed by my total lack of direction.

  13. hmm  

    ibanking and wall street in general relies on one fundamental principle: it's a zero sum game. As far as I know, there is only a finite amount of wealth in this world; if you are extravagantly rich, someone must be extravagantly poor. I know this is a gross generalization, but in the most basic sense, in order for you to make money, someone else has to get screwed. Does it take some measure of intelligence and a lot of business sense to make money on Wall Street? Absolutely. But you cannot possibly deny that your bank account is growing at someone else's expense. And then you say how you give back to charity? I don't see it as charitable or noble when a multimillionaire donates a million dollars to charity -- I'm by no means against it, but let's see the truth for what it is: writing a check and holding a press conference sure as hell beats devoting your life to improving the world. I'm a very hands-on person. I want to change the world, and I'm doing it in the most direct way possible. To me, a Wall Street banker writing a check to charity is the epitome of a hands-off approach. Not to mention the inherent hypocrisy that comes with "giving back" money that was made by screwing many, many other people.

    • uhh.. no.

      Who says wall street is a zero-sum game? I can think of two: Gordon Gekko, a caricature in a film demonizing wall street created by an angry liberal, and angry liberals.

      The fact is, market economics is NOT a zero sum game. Marxist economics is. Comparative advantage. The churn. Creative destruction. Law of one price. Barriers to entry. Long-run cost curve. Any of these things mean anything to you?

    • im sorry

      i'm not over this yet. what kind of naive fool are you? a zero-sum game? do you think we live in a state of autarky? do you actually believe that providing liquidity and credit to companies with solid plans to invest and use them does not create positive value? do you understand any of the words in these sentences? or are you so tied up with your Marxist incantations of "surplus value" and "use value" and "labor value" that you think they are actually grounded in some sort of reality? want some more M-C-M'?

      • umm  

        I kind of stopped reading what you wrote after you called me a Marxist. I'd rather not waste my time reading the ruminations of a complete moron. Just in case you sprout a couple new brain cells, here's something to think about: how come ibankers are almost always on the defensive? You never see people attacking doctors, or scientists, or even those god-forsaken engineers on any of the grounds upon which your "profession" is criticized. Why is that? Is it really because eeeeeeeveryone is a complete dumbass? Or is there some tiny, almost insignificant -- but nevertheless real -- possibility that on some level your industry, if it can be called that, deserves some fraction of the criticism it receives?

        • Nope.  

          Full disclosure: I work for an investment bank (although in the trenches, not as a banker). Bonus disclosure: I am not 100% OK with this fact; also, TFA is a noble endeavour; also, TFA is not a great idea, as #35 notes. Alright:

          Making the claim that economics is a zero-sum game is ridiculous. Value is constantly being created, that's what "economic growth" is. It's not like there are a thousand dollars, now and forever, and somebody is holding 900 of them.

          Investment banks obviously have an important macroeconomic role. Small market scale in obvious ways (your dad opens a general store and sells stuff), but your dad can't build a skyscraper, can't loan to a national government, can't provide insurance on a tanker carrying $20 gazillion in oil through dangerous waters, etc. etc.

          I think most people's problem with ibankers is that (A) a lot of them seem to be jerks and (B) I sincerely doubt most of them give a damn about their "macroeconomic role" -- they just want to make lots of money. Still, they are economically vital, so there's no real point in ragging on them for doing what they do. If they weren't doing it, somebody else would... that's economics for you.

        • haha!

          lovely. instead of answering the questions, you spout polemicisms and ad hominems. just like Marx did in the Manifesto.

        • lawyers

          lawyers are criticized on the same grounds as bankers. all. the. time.

  14. Sprinkles

    The poorest, most disadvantaged kids in American public schools get the least experienced teachers.

    This is the problem I have with TFA.

    The good intentions are there, but the road to hell is also paved with them. Particularly in managing classrooms of unruly children, a brand-new teacher is at a distinct disadvantage, and this doesn't help the kids at all. Bright-eyed enthusiasm only goes so far.

  15. ianc-b  

    i missed these bwog-facilitated debates.

  16. been there  

    One thing that IB people like to gloss over is that the job sucks for the first 4 or 5 years (I'm including the first couple of years as an associate as well). Modeling or making pitch books for 14-16 hours a day is simply the most fucking boring job in the world. There's a reason why they HAVE to pay people so much money to do these jobs.... no one would have any inclination to enter the industry otherwise. Yeah, you have to pay your dues, and the job gets better once you've made it to VP or higher, but I don't quite understand how some IBers get off on looking down upon people who decided they wanted to spend their 20's doing something fun, as opposed to stacking up money they never have the time to spend.

    • amen to that  

      of course, "doing something fun" is not working for TFA.

    • yes  

      the job totally sucks at the entry level, but thats not what the debate is. Nor is the debate about bankers looking down on people. The debate is about whether or not wall street firms create value.

      • ...  

        do they "create" some value? sure. is all of that cannibalized by the industry itself, thus producing a net negative? yes. here's why:

        1) opportunity cost of real industries losing talent. case in point: a large number of graduates from this country's best engineering school head straight to wall street after school because of the out of proportion salaries. what does our economy lose by incenting talent to gamble instead of develop tangible technology that generates economic activity? a lot.

        2) "development" of exotic instruments. quite frankly, merchant banking is way more complex than it really needs to be in order to serve the purpose that it does in our society. want to know why? it's because these folks develop overcomplicated and exotic instruments in an effort to confuse the competition and "manufacture" alpha.

        guess what? this means it becomes 1) very expensive to try and 2) pretty much impossible, to maintain effective regulatory oversight. ultimately, this leads to fraud. additionally, all of these exotic contracts and instruments build a very complicated and impossible to understand lattice of vulnerable interdependency that adds hidden vulnerabilities to the stability of the market as a whole. so not only are we unable to properly regulate the markets, we're also unable to develop effective economic policy to dampen ebbs and flows.

        the fact of the matter is. a job on wall street requires only a few important attributes:

        1) ability to suck the cock of your fellow businessmen.

        2) ability to fuck around in excel.

        3) a piece of paper that declares that you come from a "prestigous" background.

        4) a pretty face and extended vocabulary of jargon to back up #3

        5) willingness to commit yourself to decades of busywork that has no net positive effect on society. basically being okay with the idea that you're going to spend your life exclusively sucking the cock of the business world, regardless of how much you try and convince yourself that you can be something else outside of it. willingness to ignore that you may die rich, but if so, you'll likely also die with a head full of regret, wondering what life would have been like had you pursued something other than riches.

        • non-banker above  

          Well, hang on. I'm a tech guy who went to work in finance despite never having planned to have done so -- if you think my work doesn't cause significant advances in my field, you're way off. There's a reason every software company has conferences at the offices of I-banks -- they're a huge segment of the tech sector, particularly in the last ten years. Of all the applications of computer science and computer engineering, finance probably puts the greatest demands on the existing R&D apparatus. Think space program. Big projects need to buy big technology -- once that tech has been scoped out, it moves into other fields. So the "talent drain", frankly, is BS -- tech salaries climb as the financial industry grows. Admittedly Wall Street is the better place to work right now; it's been a shitty decade to be working in technology, in terms of salary and tenure.

          As for #2 -- if exotic MB instruments are unnecessary, why are they still purchased? The idea that the SEC is sitting on its hands, just *baffled* by the complexity of what the banks are doing is silly -- and fraud at I-banks is probably at an all-time low right now. Regulatory requirements are actually very stringent and haven't exactly been making headlines lately. Large, publicly held companies are the ones eating up the scandal headlines -- in the "talent-drained industries", for that matter.

          I'd also like to note that the implication that everyone working downtown is privileged is really no longer appropriate. I am a white male (oh, no, more disclosure), and I was the only one in my division when I started. Half the staff graduated from undergraduate programs in South Asia, and nearly all of the rest came from large state universities with strong finance and tech programs. This isn't legacy admissions at Yale. Wall Street does what makes it money -- and classism is way unprofitable, man.

          • ...  

            wow, i think i pretty much disagree with everything you just said...

            There's a reason every software company has conferences at the offices of I-banks -- they're a huge segment of the tech sector, particularly in the last ten years.

            if exotic MB instruments are unnecessary, why are they still purchased?

          • fantastic!

            "wow, i think i pretty much disagree with everything you just said..."

            thats infinitely better than "you're a waste on society", or "you produce no positive value", or "your existence is predicated on sucking cock", or "you need to pull your head out of your anus". we're making progress!

          • Rational guy  

            Yes, really. Would you care to actually respond to my points? Bear in mind here that I know what I'm talking about. Ever heard of Sun? IBM?

          • Are you....  

            serious? I really can't tell if you are just being a troll for the sake of annoying people online. It just doesn't make sense otherwise. Cause I do not think that you can really be this retarded and still go to school here. Well unless you are one of those hunger strikers or their supporters. But seriously? You are just trying to be a idiot/jerk right?

  17. come on people  

    OK, so we all agree there is some need for investment bankers. My gripe is that they produce MUCH LESS public utility than millions of other occupations with exponentially smaller salaries. I think the pay structures of public school teachers and investment bankers should be swapped.

    Also, I haven't heard of the pro-bankers on this thread mention any sense of fulfillment they get from anything besides money. Sad. Every time your mutual fund supports an oil company, an insurance company, and the list goes on and on, you legitimize this completely unequal system of resources we have in the world.

    Everyone that goes to college should be focused primarily on changing the world for the better. Otherwise, you are simply a product of 18 to 22 years of indoctrination and you will lead a sad life with no true sense of love for any fellow human being.

    • dude

      how much you get paid has NOTHING to do with how much "utility" you produce. how much you get paid has everything to do with how replaceable you are. which is why investment bankers get paid a lot. and janitors don't.

    • lol..

      "Everyone that goes to college should be focused primarily on changing the world for the better."

      how is that any less a product of indoctrination, the idea that "everyone" should or "everyone" must? we live in a free society for a reason.

  18. Dammit  

    I sound like such a capitalist on this thread and, honest, I'm not that into it. But insurance companies supporting an "unequal system of resources?" This is just fetishizing poverty, now. How many poor people do you know that are against insurance and gasoline? You're speaking from a position of moral luxury. Most people NEED things like medical insurance, cheap international shipping (allowing for a diversity of cheap food, among other neat tricks), and other products of a corporate, money-driven society; it's true regardless of your personal distastes for the engine of it all. In fact, insurance is one of the main benefits that large corporations provide to everyday people -- it's the giant base of capital behind that corp that allows you to cushion your fall on $60 premiums when, say, your house burns down, or you have a debilitating illness. A world without such instruments is an ugly and dangerous one.

    Yeah, it's a shame teachers don't get paid more. Go vote about it, or engage in advocacy. I agree with you on this issue. But I bet they'd be paid even less if lending power dried up. (Visited the 1970s recently?)

    I don't feel it's necessary to defend my "sense of fulfillment", either. I'm doing interesting work that I enjoy, and I'm able to make tuition payments. Pretty good while I decide what to do with the rest of my life (the average turnover in this biz is about two years, because it's a springboard).

  19. there's a reason  

    bankers and business executives barely eked out real estate agents in a recent poll of "Most Prestigious Occupations." Know who was on top? Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, Scientists, and Teachers. You might be the best cocksuckers in JP Morgan, but clearly the rest of the world doesn't think so.

    (primary source) http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=685
    (ironic source)

  20. PAID

    I would say it has more to do with how much money your employer (i.e. firm, business, etc.) makes, and the extent to which you are perceived as being responsible for that profit.

  21. ...  

    yeah... i did actually...

    i had a pretty long reply written up that quoted you at least four or five times with happy refutations.

    unfortunately, i used two greater-than to start a quote and two less-than to end it and the comment system on here ate everything in my post after the two less-than from the first quote...

    it was really quite long and i can't be bothered to rewrite it. : /

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