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Learning from Counternarratives in Teach For America

Moving from Idealism Towards Hope


Sarah Matsui

Grounded in the belief that hope comes from a place of reality, not necessarily popular ideology, this book explores the gap between designated and actual narratives within Teach For America. TFA founder Wendy Kopp stated that there is «nothing elusive» about successful teaching; people simply need to «work hard» and be «disciplined». Taking an inquiry stance, Sarah Matsui surveyed and interviewed 26 of her fellow corps members in the Greater Philadelphia region. Their counternarratives collectively problematize this standard reform rhetoric. Many are working hard, yet their stories and challenges are complex, elusive, and commonly self-described with the words «shame», «failure», and «isolating». Corps members reported experiencing new levels of fatigue, alcohol dependency, depression, and trauma during their two-year service commitment with TFA. Learning from Counternarratives in Teach For America utilizes multiple frameworks to analyze the depth and range of corps members’ experiences. Relevant to helping professionals and people working to address constructed systems of inequity, this book ultimately advocates for a more honest, contextualized, and egalitarian approach to reform – one that openly addresses both individual and systemic realities.
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Appendix C. Data Analysis


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Data Analysis

I drew on four overlapping methodological and philosophical orientations as a means for data analysis: Inquiry Stance, Critical Pedagogy, Counternarratives, and Ethnographic Methods.

Inquiry Stance

To investigate the complexity of the phenomena observed within TFA, I adopted an inquiry stance. With the ultimate goal of improving the professional practice, this work investigates intersecting layers of complexity in the field—cultural, contextual, positional, political, historical, and institutional (S. Ravitch, 2014, pp. 7–9). An inquiry stance generates contextualized knowledge and problematizes hegemonic standard narratives; it seeks to link individuals within their micro-contexts to the macro-context of larger groups and social movements seeking to address educational inequity (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. viii). An inquiry stance is integral to action research. This study initially focused on not only generating knowledge, but also influencing the practices of TFA as an institution, particularly how they related to CMs’ lived narratives when CMs did not align with dominant reform narrative. ← 193 | 194 →

Critical Pedagogy and Counternarratives

To better work with, rather than for, the many already laboring for educational equity and justice, I adopted Paulo Freire’s school of critical pedagogy. Critical theory helps to “recognize as social and systemic what was previously understood as isolated and individual” (Crenshaw, 1991, pp. 1241–1242) and critical pedagogy includes: “Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clich...

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