Listen, if you knew me 3 years ago, every other word out of my mouth was a critique of TFA. I still have a few left over and at this point they’re awesome. However, I’d like to share a thing I appreciate about TFA after teaching in a very non-TFA school that works with low-income kids of color.
TFA White Teachers are Way More Interested in Undoing Racism than the Non-TFA White Teachers (this is observational, not scientific)
Before you call me a reverse racist, don’t (because that’s not a thing). Also – fall back with critiques about being reductionist – yes there are racist people everywhere and yes I know that TFA does in fact thrive (organizationally) because of white supremacy. HOWEVER (and yea, it’s a big however) microagressions are fewer and more far between with white TFA teachers and they are (for the most part) willing to (or forced to) interrogate their racism more than white non-TFA teachers.
That’s a BFD. I can’t tell you how many white teachers I’ve heard call kids “animals” or tell kids they’re stupid, or tell them they belong in jail. I once say a teacher make a gorilla gesture behind a black kid. I’ve heard teacher tell kid they should be deported and heard a teacher wear an turban to school so he could be a “dead terrorist.” I’ve also had hella white teachers tell me I was wrong about grammar or a math problem, then :gasp: I turned out to be right. I’ve had lots of white teachers say racist shit to me about how kids in the hood (they mean black) can’t learn to read or do math. I heard teachers say they’re wasting their time trying to teach these future convicts. You get it at this point I’m sure.
White TFA teachers, are way more interested in being called out on their racism (I mean there are still a lot of white women’s tears) and are much more likely to call out white privilege / reflect on their own. Lord knows I’ve heard some stupid ass ignorant shit from white TFA teachers, but so so so so much less than non-TFA teachers. Mostly, white TFA teachers are still struggling with white guilt, but are interested in teaching precisely because of their privilege. The want to leverage their white and usually class privilege to “help” other kids. Shortly after this, someone of color will explain why being a missionary isn’t cool, and there will be heated discussion and tears and apologies and…..progress. That white TFA teacher will later be like “I can’t believe how missionary I was, I was at Tevin’s house for dinner with his family and his mother and I had a HUGE laugh about that.” TFA tries to teach about white privilege and racism. Where else (besides in universities and in non-profits and in social justice movements) do white people do that on the regular?
Where else can I call out a white person on their racism and have the executive director design an anti-racism training in response. Where else are people talking about how racism impact their work? Where else are white folks in large numbers taking responsibility when they do something problematic and figuring out how to make progress? To be honest TFA depends way to much on TFA teachers of color to do this work (can I get a check from my contributions) and still has to explain to white folks why there isn’t a “white affinity group,” but shit it’s explaining it. Soon the folks who ask that question are sitting with me at the haters table rolling their eyes and being like “don’t worry I got this one.”
So to the white-TFA teachers who stepped up to make the other white-TFA teacher see and interrogate their racism, you made me think more critically about TFA. At the end of the day, if I had to give my children to white teacher in an rough school in an urban district, I’d much rather they be TFA than not. That right there is something.