Book Review: Relentless in Pursuit

A few weeks ago I finished “Relentless In Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America” by Donna Foote. I began reading this book to research more about Teach for America since I had applied to the program. This book is the record Foote kept of the experiences faced by several TFA corps members during their first year teaching in 2006 at Locke High School in Watts, CA. At this time Locke was one of the lowest ranking schools in California and has some of the highest drop-out rates. Since that time Locke has become a Green Dot charter school so I am not sure how it is preforming currently, but in 2006 it was pretty rough.

I think this book is a great read for anyone that is interested in joining the TFA program. It gives a thorough explanation of how TFA started back in 1990 and how it has evolved through the years. It also shares the trials and tribulations of four TFA corps members trying to get through their first year of teaching in a school where most students didn’t show up and gang violence was an everyday occurrence. Funny enough, I actually finished the book on the day I discovered I was rejected from the TFA program.

Before I even applied to TFA I knew I had several issues with the program, and this book just emphasized those issues. Firstly, the book explains how many of the teachers at Locke High School in 2006 were actually permanent substitutes that were not certified to teach. As a certified teacher that cannot find a job, you can imagine this sends chills down my spine. Secondly, a lot of the difficult issues these first year teachers experienced bothered me. I believe all first year teachers are going to experience issues, so that was not the problem. What disturbed me was I had also dealt with most of their issues during student teaching. These were not new problems. Things like poor class attendance, student disrespect and distant, unreliable parents are universal issues in highly populated urban schools right now, they are not unique to schools like Locke. As these corps members struggled to figure out how to create lessons and deal with the difficulties of first year teaching, they all made mistakes along the way. Once again, this is to be expected for any first year teacher, and I think these corps members did a great job, but it just reemphasized the fact that these kids were no different than me. I had faced these issues student teaching, and I would face these issues again in my first year teaching.

So I suppose my main issue with TFA is this: although the program is one of the most competitive in the country, accepting roughly 2,000 corps members out of over 35,000 applicants, corps members themselves; extremely ambitious, ivy league graduates with a resume filled with leadership positions, look just like me when they start teaching. But unlike me, they will leave TFA in two years, complete with a Master’s degree and a resume of gold.

In addition, the inner city schools that these corps members are teaching in do not just need corps members, they need certified teachers. But the problem is there is no incentive for certified teachers to teach in the Mississippi Delta or Miami. My mother has 10 years of teaching under her belt, a Masters Degree in English and has taught in inner-city Las Vegas schools for the past two years. When she comes back to New York this summer I promise you nobody is going to thank her for the selfless work that she has accomplished there. She will just be another certified English teaching struggling to find a job closer to home in this tough economy.

I think we need to have another type of program that is similar to TFA, but only accepts certified teachers. They will continue to have the support system of TFA corps members, and they will also teach in urban schools and focus on closing the achievement gap. It will work towards getting dedicated, certified teachers in all schools across the country. And most importantly, these teachers will be praised and respected the same was TFA corps members are after their 2 years of service.

I apologize for this rant-type post. Back to my original point: if you have any interest in what TFA is all about I would highly recommend this book. I found in interesting and highly informative.

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