Even as I acknowledge (and complain about) all of TFA’s things that get under my skin and make me sound like yet another angry blogger, I still love Teach For America because of the people in it, and because of its neurotically mission-driven culture.
Teach For America is an organization full of people who, in the overwhelming majority, think critically about what they do and take absolutely every opportunity to make themselves better at it. While having great people doesn’t necessarily mean there are always great outcomes, it does mean there’s explosive potential. My overwhelming reaction to Induction and Institute was awe—of the great people and their honesty and feedback, of the fact that things get done, of the evidence of so much great thinking—and I’m remembering that now.
A direct analogy can be made between TFA as an organization and TFA teachers, I think. As teachers trained after five weeks, we might not always know the best methods or always end up doing the best thing for kids—but people love our passion, and most schools would benefit more from a “go-getter,” enthusiastic, optimistic but clueless first-year teacher than a better-trained but not as passionate one. You can do more with the first teacher, because the weaknesses are much easier to address. The same goes for TFA. The effects of some of the ways we operate might not always come out the way we intend them to, and we might not fully understand some of the ill effects of what we do or don’t do, but I would much rather have an organization full of self-reflective, open, responsive people that may be a little off-track than an organization conceived in pure rightness that is staffed by insecure or self-preserving people.
Combine that with the radical organization-wide focus on outcomes for kids (what? Educators? Focus on kids? No way.), and you have a lithe organization that is quick to respond when we realize we’re doing something that doesn’t get us closer to One Day.
I remember writing a post during Institute about “not being disillusioned yet” about the motives and effectiveness of the people in TFA. I knew at some point, I was going to get that familiar frustrating feeling that comes from red tape and politics and “WHY are we doing this again?” But honestly, though I’ve definitely had some moments of that, my experience continues to tell me that with TFA, that familiar frustrating feeling might just be an illusion and a result of my own inability to confront the frustrations I have head-on, with the people directly responsible for them.