Serve Well Blog


Teach for America Coming to Puget Sound

Destiny Williams | Service In The News, Urban America, Education, Global Citizenship, Poverty: Urban US & International, Preparing To Serve, Sustaining Service

From cities to towns across the country, the national educational system is struggling, and people are trying different approaches to fix it. Of the growing numbers of college graduates looking to "give back" through meaningful service, some choose to serve in education, either as teachers or in after-school programs.  Teach for America (TFA), founded 20 years ago to address the achievement gap, is one program which places college graduates into paid teaching positions in struggling classrooms. TFA is in the middle of a major national expansion effort that has reached Puget Sound (Seattle & Federal Way).

A Seattle Times Article: "Teach for America seeks foothold in Seattle area" (Nov. 3, 2010) includes background and some opinions from various constituencies impacted by this shift.

A goal of the Krista Foundation is to encourage healthy dialogue and work toward best practices in the broad field of service volunteerism. Whether technically "volunteer" (unpaid/stipended) or vocational (paid), intercultural service should be done with care for the volunteer, and with care for the community where service is done. We appreciate the way TFA's model can be a platform to discuss best practices for service and vocational work by young adults who want to make a difference.

Quick summary of arguments:
Critics note:

  • TFA gives participants only 6 weeks of training before placing them into difficult classrooms.
  • TFA teachers flood a market where even certified teachers aren't getting hired, and then, after the 2-year stint, 2/3 move on, increasing staff turnover.
  • Former TFA teachers tend to have mixed feelings about the program, and site higher rates of burnout and disillusionment. (see NY Times Amanda Fairbanks, and "Teach for Awhile" Seattle Times 11.16.10, or)

Supporters note:

  • TFA teachers make up for not having a teaching credential by bringing vitality and innovation to help turn classrooms around, and site that students of TFA teachers perform as well as those with certified teachers.
  • TFA teachers take classes toward a certification, improving their skills as they work. TFA is one of several non-traditional programs for teacher certification.
  • Some teachers later move into leadership roles in schools and school districts, impacting educational policy.


Read the article for more.

Also consider reading Taking Care: The Quest for an Ethical and Mutual Approach to Service, an article by the Krista Foundation's Executive Director, Valerie Norwood.

Are you connected to or passionate about this issue? We welcome and value your experience and reflections. Please post your (moderated) comments below.

Current comments.

  1. Breeze Williams said:

    Teach for America may add energy, enthusiasm, talent and innovation to schools where students are struggling to meet the standards. I hope one of TFA's goals is to recruit adults who reflect our diverse communitites, and train them as they learn to teach. Teaching is a demanding job that requires knowledge, skill, planning and, above all,  commitment to the growth and development of children.  Teachers not only have to plan, reflect, teach well and manage students effectively, they have to keep up the energy and commitment it takes day after day to help 25-30 diverse students learn and become productive citizens. It's a BIG job!

  2. Danica Hendrickson said:

    I absolutely appreciate the desire for making sure that effective teachers are placed into classrooms in an ethical manner and appreciate you bringing up this important topic! As a non-certified teacher who has worked with quality teachers as they go through their certification requirements and non-certified teachers who hold PhD's, I do have a bit of bias about what does and does not make an effective teacher. I would pose the following questions after reading about the criticisms of TFA: 1. Does certification always guarantee quality and passion for teaching? (I am pretty sure none of my outstanding college professors were certified), and 2. Are the criticisms listed above products of TFA or products of our current educational system?

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