End TFA’s Enabling of Racist Educators Now
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Teach For America routinely advertises its commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as a key method through which they disrupt educational disparities in the journey to “One Day.” Despite this, most TFA corps members and alumni can recall instances in which a fellow corps member showed racist behavior and was permitted to continue working with students as a TFA affiliate. If TFA is truly committed to providing all students with the opportunity to attain an excellent education, there must be an exit process for corps members who hold harmful and racist beliefs toward Black students and other students of color. This process should begin as soon as such beliefs or behaviors have been identified, especially during the interview process and at Institute, the training all TFA members undergo after admission to the program. Allowing racist adults to influence the educational, social, and mental development of children in the classroom is a form of brutality that TFA is currently complicit in which harms Black communities and in broader communities of color.
TFA has the opportunity to reaffirm its support of Black students, students of color, and their communities by reforming additional organizational policies that will ensure all TFA corps members and alumni conduct themselves in a way that echoes the organization’s mission and values.
After initial admission to the program, TFA rarely terminates corps members who express racist or xenophobic ideology during their teaching commitment, preferencing “intent versus impact” in their approach to DEI work for practicing educators. This allows many corps members, whose racist language or behavior has negatively impacted Black children, to complete the program and remain affiliated with the organization as alumni. This lifelong affiliation has many benefits, including but not limited to subsidized tuition and preferential admission to graduate and professional programs, as well as informal authority when speaking or writing about issues related to education. These benefits continue even if the alumnus or their viewpoints are actively harmful to the communities the TFA mission and values claim to support.
If TFA wishes to be known as an organization that is indeed a force for good, it cannot continue to support racists and those with racist beliefs who have used their TFA sponsored teaching experience to personally capitalize on Black children, children of color, and the communities they are a part of. This is particularly important given that one of the explicit goals of the organization is to develop and mobilize “systems-change” leaders to strengthen the movement for educational equity.
The TFA community demands:
1. The inclusion of interview questions that directly probe prospective corps members’ mindsets on identity, race, and racial justice that:
- Are differentiated based on the identities of prospective corps members;
- Include direct lines of inquiry into their knowledge of racial justice work and/or reflections on their actions that contribute to anti-racism;
- If not suitably answered in a way that shows commitment to being an anti-racist educator, can lead to an applicant’s removal from the application process by recruitment and interview staff.
2. Revisions to National and Regional Institute policies that create clear exit pathways for corps members who refuse to engage in DEI work, or continuously disengage in a way that limits the impact of DEI curriculum/sessions. The policies should include clearly defined terms for immediate unconditional dismissal from Institute and TFA, as well as criteria for placement on a professional improvement plan.
3. A structure that enables the anonymous reporting of behavior or evidence of racist or prejudiced behavior by any member of the TFA community during National or Regional Institutes. A report and investigation should result in the placement of the corps member at the center of the report on a professional improvement plan. Failure to meet the conditions of the plan should result in immediate removal from Institute.
4. Revisions to the current, vague criteria that guide TFA’s decisions to rescind or dismiss corps members during Institute or their two year commitment. The updated reasons for dismissal should explicitly list the use of racist or xenophobic language, racist or xenophobic actions, or other prejudiced behavior that demonstrates an inability to effectively teach Black students and other students of color.
5. Regional commitments to monitoring and holding corps members accountable for their DEI development after Institute and during their corps years. This could include but is not limited to:
- Expanding current data-tracking for corps members to include the achievement of standardized teaching indicators that mark a responsive and equitable classroom;
- Incorporating compulsory DEI programming for corps members in all regions during their teaching commitment;
- Mandating professional improvement plans for corps members who receive complaints or referrals for inequitable, exclusionary, or racist behavior;
- Counseling out and removing corps members who fail to improve after a professional improvement plan has been issued.
6. A process for stripping former TFA affiliates of their alumni status, if it becomes apparent that they have engaged in racist actions or behaviors during their teaching commitment or after alumni status is achieved.
7. A database or other publicized method that permits educational or professional institutions (who provide TFA alum preference in admission or fee waivers/reduced tuition) the ability to determine if the alumni is considered to be in good standing by their region.
8. During the process of reforming policies, a commitment to including, consulting, and appointing leaders in racial justice and educational/organizational equity who are of the same racial identities as the students TFA corps members teach.
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