By Channing McNeal
I was recently I was accepted to the Teach For America Corps. After I finish my final year of college, I will be returning back to Ohio to teach high school English and Social Studies. While I obviously think this a really good way to start my future career, I have recently heard some misgiving about Teach For America (TFA) as an organization. While I understand them for the most part, I think that these arguments are basically cutting off your nose to spite your face.
I think that for you as a reader to better understand my position, I should explain why I joined the corps. Let me start out by saying that my ultimate career goal is to be principal. My ideal position would be to be principal of a high school, but I’m really open to any level. To me, TFA is a way for me to gain teaching experience and connect with people in the field that I want to work in. Cornell does not have an education major, so there is really not direct career path for me to become a teacher otherwise. Practically speaking, TFA is the best way for me to break into the field that I want to work in.
On a more philosophical level, I just want to help. This is why I want to be a teacher and principal to begin with. I have always been of the belief that when you know better you do better. You give back. You make sure that someone else has the opportunities you had so that they can one day go even further than you went. I understand all the problems that surround TFA. The way the system is organized, the fact that you are replacing experience teachers in some cases, and so on and so on. I cannot even disagree with some of them. But my stance has, and always will be, “okay, then how are you helping?” I have never been big into policy; I gladly leave that up to people who are much smarter than me. I prefer interaction and tangible results. Because of this, I’m just skeptical of people who are always criticizing but never actually doing any corrective action. By point out all of these faults in TFA, who are you really benefitting? Unless you’re going to go out and actually make changes, I really have no time for your comments.
While there are faults in TFA, the one salient benefit is that you are actively helping children, which at the end of the day is the point to me. So you can sit there and judge and talk about TFA, but when I respond and ask what you are actively doing to help the lives of children, I expect a really good answer.