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Teach For America Counter-Narratives

Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out


Edited By Jameson T. Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais

In its twenty-five years of existence, Teach For America (TFA) has transformed from an organization based on a perceived need to ameliorate a national teacher shortage to an organization that seeks to systematically replace traditional fully-certified teachers while simultaneously producing alumni who are interested in facilitating neoliberal education reform through elected political positions. From its inception, TFA has had its share of critics; yet criticism of the organization by its own members and alumni has largely been silenced and relegated to the margins.
This book – the first of its kind – provides alumni of TFA with the opportunity to share their insight on the organization. And perhaps more importantly, this collection of counter-narratives serves as a testament that many of the claims made by TFA are, in fact, myths that ultimately hurt teachers and students. No longer will alumni voices be silenced in the name of corporate and neoliberal education reform.
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Chapter Thirteen: The Gaps Between You and Me: Being Gay in TFA



The Gaps Between You and Me: Being Gay in TFA

SUMMER PENNELL Eastern North Carolina, 2009–2011


Summer Pennell is a North Carolina native and was a Teach For America (TFA) corps member in Eastern North Carolina (ENC) from 2009 to 2011. Her experiences as a high school English teacher, particularly those with her queer students, motivated her to dedicate her career to queer students and teachers. She is currently a doctoral candidate at UNC–Chapel Hill, where her research interests include secondary English methods, queer theory and pedagogy, critical literacy, social justice education, intersectionality, and qualitative methods. She has an M.A. in folklore from the University of Oregon and a B.A. in English literature and interdisciplinary visual arts from the University of Washington–Seattle, and values interdisciplinary work.


Since its founding, Teach For America (TFA) has focused on the achievement gap: the difference in test scores between students in affluent schools and those in low-income schools. Corps members are taught to believe this gap can be closed through the perseverance of individual teachers. Yet, despite TFA’s rhetoric, the ← 129 | 130 → organization itself ignores the gaps it created between the organization and its corps members, and between the corps members themselves. These gaps are the ones I fell through during my 2 years teaching in a small rural school in Eastern North Carolina (called ENC by TFA). TFA, as an organization, expects that teachers...

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