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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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Chapter 4. The Reality of Trauma in TFA


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Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as an emotional response to a terrible event. People respond to trauma differently: some will have no ill effects, others may experience an immediate and acute effect, and others may not show signs of stress until after the event (Trauma, 2013). Trauma is inherently difficult to talk about, and how a person experiences and responds to trauma can change over time.

Many CMs experienced trauma in TFA. Ariel described herself as “stressed, traumatized, over-worked” in TFA; this was a common response among CMs. John, Aiden, Jane, Maggie, and Marie commented on the pervasiveness of trauma in TFA. John stated, “I thought TFA had a culture of people who were in over their heads … I was surprised by how many people seemed shell shocked.”

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