Why Teach For America Kicked Me Out

My time with Teach for America just came crashing to a halt. I had a conference call this week with the executive director for my region. She literally has two degrees in marketing and zero in education. She actually is only the interim ED, temporarily stepping in from her role as literally VP of national corporate relations. One of her aides began, “Big picture, we have been asking ourselves the question, is this the right fit, given all of the data points. We want to walk through some of the specifics we have been thinking about that have led us to answer that question.” Basically, my class this summer at the Teach for America institute was a disaster. Basically, I interviewed with eight schools and they all thought I was worthless. I am a failure because we should all be perfect after five weeks of training that include less than 16 hours with students. Little attention was paid to the fact I was never put on an improvement plan, standard procedure at institute when concerns arise, and instead I received an award for my third-grade teaching. Little attention was paid to the fact that I received recognition from my peers for providing multiple lenses to critically analyze all we were being taught and for standing up against the entrenched racism of Teach for America staff who on one occasion even went so far as attempting to convince me my students were going to be murderers. Little attention was paid to the fact my support for our diversity session leader led to a redesign of the curriculum at our school that spread throughout the institute. Little attention was paid to the fact I had corps members I never met come up to thank me for my dedication to ensure we are not pathologizing our students, but instead supporting their tremendous strengths. Little attention was paid to the fact that Teach for America arranged interviews exclusively with charter schools that have proliferated under the anti-democratic School Reform Commission, an appointed board merely carrying out recommendations from privately funded Boston Consulting Group. They use a fresh batch of inexperienced well-intentioned 22-year-old bodies to enact their recipe: close schools, ignore parents, layoff teachers, get rid of counselors, shut down libraries, break the union, and then hold a bake sale for school supplies. The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools is comprised of nearly 20 community organizations that oppose this destruction. These students, parents, teachers, and other community members know what their schools need and stand up for it. Teach for America began constructing concerns to knock me down only when it discovered I stand up in solidarity with this community. It was not until I asked how I could support Teach for America in addressing the criticisms laid out by education scholar and former corps member Camika Royal in her charge to examine ourselves. It was not until I asked why Teach for America was strikingly absent from the countless community demonstrations for schools I attend each week. Concerns only materialized when I asked why my body was being used to dismantle the Philadelphia public schools. Concerns only materialized when I asked to talk about fostering critical thinking, supporting students’ identities, and approaching the classroom with love, instead of merely discussing how to control bodies. Concerns only materialized when I refused to strictly follow the command “obedience leads to freedom.” A phrase I will never bow down to for millions of my ancestors were brutally massacred in genocide waged under its translation: Arbeit macht frei. Concerns only materialized when they realized I refused to displace veteran teachers, disrupt community, and instill permanent instability, a feat they arduously worked to achieve by placing the rest of the Philly corps of over 100 in teaching positions despite layoffs of 1 in 5 veteran educators. Taking the 36 trolley out to West Philly for what I would later learn to be my final interview, my phone buzzes in my pocket. “Jay, your opinions need to remain silent.” The conference call reaches its conclusion: “Jay, we are recommending you for dismissal from Teach for America.” But I haven’t given up on teaching. I’m going to properly study to become the elementary educator I dream to be. And that’s not with Teach for America.

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