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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 D. Recommendations to TFA Staff on What Can Be Done to Better Support TFA Greater Philadelphia CMs


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Recommendations to TFA Staff on What Can Be Done to Better Support TFA Greater Philadelphia CMs

This study’s findings and the following outline of suggestions have been presented to the regional chair and leadership team of TFA Hawai’i in August, 2013; presented to Greater Philadelphia CMs, GSE staff, and TFA staff at the 2013 Penn GSE/TFA Capstone Conference; and shared with the TFAGP staff.

These are some immediate and actionable changes needed to better support CMs as individuals, as potential lifelong advocates for educational equity, and as current teachers. TFA needs to gather information on CMs’ actual experiences, engage in a process of critical action-reflection, and prioritize CMs’ mental health:

• Gather information on CMs’ mental health.

○ For an organization that deeply values and emphasizes the importance of data collection, it is amazing that little to no data is collected on CMs’ mental health. How are CMs, the supposed leaders of this educational revolution, actually doing? Aiden stated, “With the organization and the staff as a whole … I think that there is a certain culture that does try and stifle that kind of conversation [on behavioral health]. I think bringing this kind of conversation into daylight could help. It’s a hard to tackle.” ← 197 | 198 →

○ Add a page on mental health to the mandatory TFA survey so that the organization can know and address the struggle on a broader basis if needed. The survey...

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