Friday, April 07, 2006

Dear Teach For America Googlers

I get a lot of hits from people randomly searching for the weirdest things. In the past 24-hours, people have been here looking for "why monkeys like to hide between flamingos," "why I hate life," "brokeback mountain dvd wall mart," and "women don't like small penises no matter what.*" But my favorites are the Teach for America Googlers. And it's definitely Teach for America googling season. Young, impressionable idealists all over this country are preparing to join the "illustrious" organization, and are currently googling it to get as much info as possible.

So here's a repost of something that was on the old blog (a cache of which I randomly found again...I thought they were all gone, so that was exciting) specifically for them:

In my previous post, a well-intentioned young man left a comment asking for my opinion about the Teach for America program. He had found a post of mine on Google, and inquired about my offer to prospective TFAers to "kick you in the kidneys to the point of internal bleeding, and poke you with burning sticks," in order to quickly recreate the TFA experience.

I sent him an email, and at the urging of my friend and fellow TFA Survivor, Jen, I shall post the gist of my response here, for future Googlers to find. If I can help even ONE other caring, idealistic soul out there, then my horrible experience will have been worth it.

So, saying that, here it goes:

Dear "Teach for America" Googlers,

I'm writing this in response to questions you may have regarding the reality of the Teach for America experience.

You can probably tell already, but I deeply dislike (one might even say "hate") Teach for America, after my experiences with them. I was assigned to South Louisiana (SLA), and I'm not sure if my experience would have been better had I been placed elsewhere. As it was, I feel that I was misled and out and out lied to by the organization starting immediately with the day of the interview.

To make a long story (and it is a VERY long story) shorter, here's just a short list of my problems with the organization.

  • Throughout the application, acceptance and training process, I was led to believe that the schools TFAers are placed in are aware of and open to the TFA mission and philosophy. For me, this turned out not to be the case. My school administration was openly hostile to me, and my work was quickly relegated to simply fulfilling the status quo.
  • I was also led to believe that TFA would provide continued support, training, and encouragement. I understood that it was my responsibility to seek those things out when I needed to. But each time I did that, I was shut down and my problems were ignored until they were too big for the TFA staffers to deal with.
  • When I joined, I really got the feeling that the TFA staff and administrators truly cared about me as an individual. It didn't take long for me to realize that the corps members are merely a commodity to them, and they will use you up, drain you of everything you have that's of value to them, and then they will leave you hanging.
  • I stayed in TFA for one year. In that time, the other TFAer at my school was forced to resign from her job. I myself was bullied and psychologically abused by my school administration on a daily basis. All of my regional TFA staff were well aware of this situation. I kept them updated almost daily. And they did nothing to help. They did not lift one finger to make the situation better. I have no doubt that I probably sound like bitter, disgruntled failure. I know, because when I researched the program before joining, that's exactly what I thought of every negative account I read. Feel free to discount any of my complaints. I won't say you definitely shouldn't apply...because sometimes I really do wonder if other regional programs do a better job. But, I will offer a few pieces of advice if you do decide to join up. This is the stuff that TFA won't tell you
  • They will offer you a loan for relocation. I'm sure you'll need it, but try your best to be frugal and use as little of it as possible. Owing them that debt forces a lot of corps members to stay in very unpleasant situations.
  • Sign as short of a lease as possible on your housing. You want to be as free as you can be. Don't make too many committments or too many ties you can't break.
  • Never make the mistake of blindly assuming that what the TFA establishment tells you is in your best interest. You have to be diligent about looking out for your own well being, or they will gladly steamroll right over you. By about my 2nd month in, I realized that in any given situation, my Program Director was bullshitting me (pardon the language....TFA insprires a lot of swearing...) about 99% of the time.
  • My staffers were so good at using the techniques of manipulation\ and guilt trips, that I figure they must all be trained in it. Don't let them make you feel bad about yourself. Realize that's a standard game that they play with everyone and forget about it. Every corps member I knew spent a lot of time feeling depressed and even suicidal about the whole process. It's not worth it.
    If you have any more questions, or want to talk more specifics, you can contact me via email.

    I also am in contact with few others who will give you the real deal. Two of them are just finishing up their second year, and are considered "successful" by TFA standards. And you can trust them to tell you the truth about their experiences. I'll be happy to help get you in touch with them.

    Thank you for your interest,
    Flamingo Jones

Please note that I strictly refuse to link to the Teach for America website, for moral reasons. If you don't know what TFA is, you'll have to Google it for your own damn self.
*I'm not touching this topic with a ten-foot pole. Or a two-foot pole, as it were.


Blogger sociable_solipsist said...

It occurred to me whilst reading this that the third year thing I did to make this whole shabang work for a new TFAer is really counterproductive considering I agree whole-heartedly with your view.

April 10, 2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger liusia said...

Can I get an "Amen"?


May 06, 2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger Flamingo Jones said...

I know I don't know you liusia....but I think I love you. But not in a weird creepy way. Just in a "I feel your pain, sister" way.

May 06, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger liusia said...

Indeed. I feel as though we are sisters in arms.

Also, I feel as though I should go read the rest of your blog. I will do that now.

May 09, 2006 3:07 AM  
Blogger Spokanite in LA said...

This sounds like my experience in LA....hell, the worst year of my life...pure misery...depression...debt to the group keeping you in a second year. At least you get used to being cursed at and having things thrown at you. It has been the worst decision of my life and it does make you feel like shooting yourself.

July 13, 2006 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former corps member in SLA, your post cracked me up. While I did successfully complete my two years, I did often wonder if my soul had been sucked away in the process. I, luckily, had a great support system at my school, but there were still days that I contemplated driving my car into oncoming traffic, especially during Black October. Did you ever read The Onion article?

July 25, 2006 5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am finishing up my second year. I can relate to many of the things you said. The PDs I've had have all been the same; Robotic like people who spit out TFA acronyms and dismiss my concerns. I am looking forward to completing my sentence and moving on with my life. If you are considering applying for the corps, I would suggest that you do your research first. This organization is NOT for everyone.

January 21, 2008 6:42 PM  
Blogger D'Anne said...

HELP!!! My son has applied to TFA having only heard the glitz and glory of "saving the kiddies from the horrid inequality of education". He has not heard any of the real stories from real people who have been in TFA. Could someone please contact me and tell me how to get in touch with REAL PEOPLE who have done this and know all the sides of it...not just the wonders promoted by TFA??????

February 15, 2008 7:47 AM  

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