Aug 03 2010

Spot the TFA!

ENC Orientation was over, I believe, this weekend and, with teacher workdays starting for most schools in about two weeks, the new CMs (and returning second years) are flooding into town. This means, my friends, the beginning of yet another year long round of the game my husband and I like to call “Spot the TFA!”

See, the town I live in is a small hub for about three different districts where TFAs teach. Even when I was actually still serving my two years I didn’t necessarily know everyone in those three districts, but now that I have been an alum for three years (eek!) I know even fewer of the current local CMs. This area is very rural with not a large “professional” population, or a large 20-something population for that matter. This means that CMs don’t blend in here like they would in, say, DC (oh look! another intern!). I have come to discover that while out and about (at WalMart or one of the three restaurants TFAs seem to frequent) it is very easy to …Spot the TFA!

A handy field guide:

* A young, harassed looking woman with her hair in a messy bun wearing work clothes that look like they came from Ann Taylor loft to Wal Mart? TFA!

*A skinny guy with slacks, a button down shirt, bags under his eyes, and a scraggly beard grown desparately in an attempt to look older? TFA!

*Almost anyone working on a small Mac in public? TFA!

* A group of young twenty somethings still in their work clothes at the Mexican restaurant speaking what appears to be an unintelligable language (“And then, after I sent him to SMR they made me write up a PEP!”) ? TFAs!

*A car with out of state plates and/or an out of state college sticker? Contains a TFA!

* Too old to be a high school student looking person at a high school sporting event in work clothes (and heels, if female)? TFA!

*Almost anyone wheeling around one of those rolly cart things full of files? TFA!

*Young twenty something who can’t seem to control the urge to tell kids at WalMart to take their hats off? TFA! (Or… me!)

And so my friends, with the help of this handy dandy field guide you too can … Spot the TFA!

14 Responses

  1. This game sounds like fun. I wish I could play it too. But I’m one of those in DC, so it would be ridiculously hard to play it well. Maybe soon you’ll come up with a taxonomy.

  2. Let’s not forget extreme arrogance. Sense of entitlement.

  3. Well, while I would certainly agree with that in the specific (having known several TFAs who were both arrogant and entitled) I don’t think I’d agree in the general. Most TFA teachers I’ve know have been very driven, but I wouldn’t necessarily class them as arrogant.

  4. Michael Fiorillo

    Let’s not forget an often patronizing attitude toward students (“I am going to help these people overcome the Achievement Gap!”) and a latent (or in New Orleans, for example, overt) tendency to be a scab.

  5. Mr. M

    Wow, lots of haters in the house. This post was (I think) supposed to be humorous and fun. I’m amazed that some of you people find the time to be so negative during the enjoyable summer months. Getems.

  6. Will

    As contrasted with Michael, for example, who would rather not do anything about the achievement gap, thank you very much.

  7. Michael Fiorillo


    You’re so right, all I’ve ever done is be a career public school teacher in a high needs school, located in the city I’ve lived my entire life in, unlike the overwhelming majority of TFA missionaries who helicopter in, polish their resume and moral vanity for two years, and then merrily apply to law school or Goldman Sachs, regaling their colleagues with stories about how they helped “the underprivileged.”

    Oh, except of course for the one’s who are chosen, groomed and trained to go to managerial positions privatizing the public schools.

  8. Will

    Ok, Michael, I will apologize first. My comment was out of line, though it’s my opinion (take it or leave it) that yours was as well. To me, the point of education is not career commitment, vanity, or even attitude; it is student achievement. Students taught by TFA teachers achieve, on average, at a rate statistically significantly higher than other new teachers, and on par with veteran teachers. Given the choice between a teacher with a nice down-to-earth attitude and one that gets their students to achieve, I’d hope that most parents and students would choose the second teacher, even if they come across as patronizing. Of course, the best option would be to have both high achievement and good attitude, but your comment seemed to say that with a TFA you always get the package deal.

    BTW, thank you for your commitment to education – I know you don’t get thanked often enough for what you do. Perhaps with your energy and commitment, you should start a charter yourself?

  9. Michael Fiorillo


    My comments might have made you or others uncomfortable, but were based on facts: in the aftermath of Katrina, virtually the entire New Orleans teaching corps (who just happened to be unionized) were fired, and the schools are being staffed by a disproportionate share of TFAers. While scabbing is not the technical term, it will suffice, and gives the lie to the sanctimonious rhetoric that TFA’s publicity apparatus generates and that seem to be programmed into many recruits: namely, that the organization is some kind of progressive force for social change.

    Call me old fashioned, but union busting is in no way, shape or form a progressive thing.

    As for your claim that the students of TFAers have superior “achievement” – a meaningless statement, since the test scores, as we’ve officially found out here in NY, are politically manipulated and fraudulent- please supply me with some statistically valid evidence. I’m hearing the same thing from you I always hear from ed deformers: “Research shows that…(fill in your policy preference).

    And no thanks, I believe in public education, not its hostile takeover and privatization, which is what TFA is really about.

  10. Will


    Evidence, for starters:

    Of course, if you don’t believe in testing data, then we are at an impasse on all kinds of achievement metrics; adult outcomes are clumsy to work with for effecting improvement on sub-decadal timeframes.

    Full disclosure: I am a TFA alum (Greater New Orleans, 2003), and when I taught I was a card-carrying, dues-paying UTNO member. I live in New Orleans and volunteer in schools, though I have left the teaching profession (attack me on that if you like). I disagree with your portrayal of what has happened to the city’s public schools, but I think we actually agree on the essential facts, so arguing over interpretation is all we’d be doing there. Did you teach in New Orleans before a move to NY?

    Again, I actually think you could start a great charter if you wanted, non-profit and with unionized faculty if you like. Think of it as a school district unto itself, with all the risks and freedoms thereunto appertaining, and it doesn’t sound so bad. I agree that if we could go into the wayback machine and bring funding back to the traditional district model like we had 30-40 years ago, that would get us a long way toward solving many of our critical issues. But, with an ageing population taking less interest in education, and the continuing movement toward lower taxation, I don’t see it happening, so charters provide one alternative.

    Finally, I’ll respectfully disagree again: TFA is about (1) bringing recent college graduates into the education professions who otherwise would not, and (2) ensuring that a large and growing number of doctors, politicians, academics, etc. go through their lives and careers with a 2+ year experience teaching in under-resourced public schools in the back of their minds. The hostile takeover of public education seems like it could be done a lot more efficiently if that were the goal; with a hostile takeover, for example.

  11. Will, a vital component of said hostile takeover is that it be done with the appearance of niceness. It’s similar to the way the the US controls resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan: with a smiling, murdering kingpin talking about democracy and free puppies the entire way.

    The guarantee of the free, open instruction of the next generation was one of the country’s major achievements. Many people still instinctively understand the value of that, which is why destroying our schools and selling them off to corporate job trainers has to be done with a great deal of work and precision over the course of decades. A large quantity of data needs to be generated, and a coherent narrative constructed so that, decades from now, when good people try to argue for a return to public schools that provide some version of a rounded education to all students living within a certain district, the elites can wheel out the narrative and evidence and prove that “this didn’t work.” Consider the way the crony capitalist USSR is regularly used to prove that communism would not work.

    Granted, by and large, public schools were terrible places. They were run by domineering administrators and teachers who allow prison-gang-style social controls of some students over others, emotional and physical violence to enforce immature behavioral standards, they only rarely teach critical thinking, and their educational standards and quality were poor. Nonetheless, they will look like shining examples of perfection next to the corporate Tartarus, “Office Space” schools we’re currently in the process of imposing upon our young.

  12. Aaand socialist rant? = Comments closed.