Resignation Letter #1

Here’s a copy of my first resignation letter – that TFA then asked me to re-write:

“The following is my letter announcing my resignation from Teach For America, effective on Monday, November 15, 2010. It is a disappointment to me to be unable to finish my Corps commitment due to health reasons. However, I do not place the blame on myself. Rather, I look at TFA as being the guilty party. I was put in radically unfair and impossible situations numerous times with virtually no real support and my mental and physical health was significantly harmed as a result.

First off, it was a bad idea for TFA to place teachers at a brand new school that had no guarantee of enrollment numbers. Secondly, it was a worse idea to train someone to teach high school and then have them get hired by an elementary school. While I could make due with my minimal and incorrect training in a 5th grade class, I was completely unprepared for the 2nd grade class I was placed in. After the switch – when it was clear I was struggling – I still received virtually no on-going support or feedback on my teaching. This lack of support was characteristic of my entire experience with TFA.

After being let go from the Detroit Leadership Academy, I was told that I had no option of deferring for a year when the school had made it clear that they wanted me back the following year to teach 6th grade. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue successfully in the teaching profession; however, TFA was inflexible and instead sent me into a hellacious situation at a Detroit Public School – again with little support. To be placed in a class that had already ripped through four more experienced teachers during the year was a drastically unfair and impossible situation to place a first-year, untrained teacher in – especially when I only had several hours notice before entering the classroom. However, I got the vibe from TFA staff on several occasions that they were just waiting for me to quit once I was let go from the Detroit Leadership Academy so I would stop being an issue for them to deal with.

It has frustrated me immensely to leave everything and everyone I knew behind to come here to Detroit with TFA and then to receive virtually no adequate support once I arrived and to be thrown into unrealistic and impossible situations repeatedly, thereby ensuring my failure with the program. This experience has been six months of my life that were financially, emotionally and physically draining and that I will never get back.

As a result of the disgracefully unfair and ridiculous situations I have been placed in as a part of TFA – through no fault of my own I might add -,  I would prefer not to have to pay back my TFA transitional funding and I also have no intention of paying for my first year of my University of Michigan certification process since I will not be taking any certification classes for the rest of this year and not receiving my certification. Furthermore, I would appreciate TFA paying me three months of salary equivalent to the average salary of teachers in Detroit while I transition to new jobs in the city that I am now stuck in.

Know that I will be a fiercely vocal opponent of Teach For America throughout the rest of my life as I remained involved in education. My experience with the program was frustrating and disheartening. As a first-year charter corps in a new region, we have been treated like guinea pigs. The results – corps members dropping out, being hospitalized, being forced to resign from schools or fired mid-year, ending up on anti-depressants, etc. is a noticeable problem and should be disturbing to the organization.


John Williamson”

About jasherwilliamson

Hi my name is John Williamson. I'm currently working as a Classroom Coach with a non-profit called College Forward in Austin, TX. Our goal is to get high school students (primarily ones from low-income and first generation backgrounds) into and through college. Originally, I'm from Washington state (Seattle-area) and I went to school at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. Drop me a line if you want to know anything else about me... Peace and love,
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10 Responses to Resignation Letter #1

  1. mrmambo says:

    Wow—just read this letter; it comes off as very 1-sided, saying TFA was totally in the wrong. Plus, you then ask for forgiveness from transition and certification costs and *plus* 3 months of additional pay. Oh, and then mention you’ll be badmouthing them all over the place.

    I’m not surprised they freaked-out–you rip on them and then ask for the world! I’m all for asking for a lot and then negotiating down, but usually you ask for something in exchange for something. You could have said that you would want to be excused from the costs incurred to date in exchange for *not* criticizing the organization publicly. You’re not giving them any incentive to work with you.

    • jasherwilliamson says:

      I don’t pretend that I’m being fair and balanced in my opinion of TFA – obviously, I’m one-sided in how I see the organization. My experience necessarily colors my opinion of TFA (as does additional research I have done, other horror stories I have heard, intensive reflection, etc.). I felt like I was put into horribly unfair and awful positions by the organization and many people agree with me, but some people obviously don’t (TFA Detroit staff members for one at least pretended that they didn’t agree with me). Also, of course TFA didn’t give me any forgiveness from transition loans or three months additional pay – I didn’t really think they would and it was just a total shot in the dark…lol (I did get to keep a supplementary grant I had received earlier in the year because my original school’s pay was so low, but I’m pretty sure they only allowed me to keep that because it would have been awkward/hard to explain for them if they had to return the money to the funders). And if they had offered to somehow “pay me off” in order to keep me quiet, that would seem to be more akin to bribery than negotiation…but no worries, all the major newspapers here in Detroit (and most of them across the country) are completely in bed with TFA and their corporate connections/influence…my story is going to get nowhere.

  2. Porscha says:

    I sympathize with your situation and your struggle with the organization; HOWEVER, from a strictly professional standpoint, they were right to have you re-do your resignation letter.

    First of all, professional letters of resignation are supposed to be brief. I understand your need to vent your frustrations, but this – professionally speaking – was not the proper venue. Secondly, letters of resignation are typically kept in an employment file meant to move on to your next job, which is partially the reason you want them to be brief and to the point without a lot of bitterness and finger-pointing. If a future employer is going to see it, it will not shine positively on your coping skills.

    Obviously you were put into a sometimes precarious position while working through Teach for America and that is incredibly regrettable. But there are ways to go about things – especially if what you’re trying to do is inform people about something negative – and this is not the way. Your reasons for leaving TFA, while understandable, are here clouded by what seems to be only bitterness and spite. It’s hard to see the logic in presenting your argument this way, regardless of how you feel about them, if you want the argument to be read and understood.

    Please know that I am not saying that Teach for America was good to you. I am not saying that you should’ve stayed. I am not discounting how terrible your experience(s) must have felt. What I’m saying is, after reading these two letters, it doesn’t come across very well. It comes across like someone being petulant and vengeful, in the most petty of ways, in the aftermath of an unfortunate series of situation. I apologize that your times with TFA were so bad, but after reading the resignation letters, I can also understand why at the very least they wanted you to re-do and edit them.

    • Porscha says:

      I left out: “Third, typically when writing a letter of resignation it is okay to include positive reasons for leaving a job but not okay to include negative ones. The tone should be subdued and objective-seeming and should not be accusatory in nature.”

      Good luck with your future endeavors. I hope you are much happier sans TFA.

      • jasherwilliamson says:

        Well, since I resigned from TFA only because I was ended up in an incredibly unhealthy place personally due to the horrific situations they repeatedly threw me into while providing me almost no adequate support and virtually zero appropriate training, I tried to come up with some objective/positive reasons for leaving the job to put in my resignation letter, but was unable to think of any…lol.

        And of course you make really good, professional points and career/future-wise I probably should not have written such vicious, pointed and angry resignation letters, but the letters reflected exactly how I felt at the time (and still do feel, most of the time) and I would rather be honest to the organization (officially, in writing, so it couldn’t just be totally ignored/dismissed, although it probably still was anyway despite my best efforts) about how I felt I was treated and how my experience with TFA was then to sell out and let them off the hook with a wussy resignation letter…far too many ex-Corps members who have horrific experiences (and their are plenty) just cower down in the corner and put the failure on themselves and never call TFA out for screwing them over. I truly hope more Corps members who had awful experiences will start coming out of the wood work to challenge this organization! I think it would be unfortunate as a matter of principle for an organization not to be called out for how they prey upon well-meaning, hard-working, achievement-oriented young people who want to make a difference (much as myself) because of some unwritten code of ‘professionalism.’ So I called them out and I will continue to do so. And besides, I didn’t really see any other clear venues to express myself to them at the time…

        Despite the potential and already apparent consequences, I stand by that decision, even if it hurts a few job prospects in the future (which, by the way, it has already done – a few months ago, a school in South Korea backed out of a contract I signed with them at the last minute – literally about a week before I was going to fly over there – because they somehow found out how badly things had gone with my teaching experiences here…hmmm). Honestly, I wouldn’t probably want to work for an organization that was going to judge me based on my having a negative experience and a negative opinion of TFA because of the situations described in my resignation letter…

        But I appreciate the advice/thoughts – in the future, when I am a more mature, professional person forging my way in the corporate working world, I am sure I will handle similar situations much more appropriately and with more political correctness :-). In the meantime, I’ll just continue to express anger, frustration and disappointment when I feel that I am poorly treated and/or fucked over. It’s really the first time in my life that I’ve “failed” at something or really had the realization that sometimes in life you’re just going to get screwed with and sometimes you have to stand up and fight back (even though I started fighting back a bit too late in this case perhaps)…a tough lesson to learn, but a valuable one… And I am much, much happier sans TFA – I should have gotten out way before I did (e.g. a week into that awful 2nd grade classroom)/never gotten involved with them in the first place, but mistakes made, lessons learned and life goes on :-).

  3. Hannah says:

    Did you end up paying back your transistional funding?

    • jasherwilliamson says:

      Hannah – Yea, of course I had to pay back my transition loans. I was pretty confident they wouldn’t grant my request to have loan forgiveness, although I thought that would be more than fair considering how Teach For America set me up for absolute failure…I’m on a loan repayment plan (TFA normally makes you pay back your loans very quickly if you resign, but for some reason – most likely an administrative oversight – I have just been on the normal loan repayment plan – of course, I also still get their region-wide emails :-). One of the ways TFA likes to entrap Corps members is by forcing them to quickly pay back their transition loans or in some cases – when Corps members aren’t placed right away in a region, which happened with several Corps members here in Detroit this year – (and this is something that TFA never warns about beforehand by the way) – Corps members are forced to take out “supplementary funding” from the TFA regional budget until they get their first pay checks from their schools (this can take months in some extreme cases) and this money also has to be paid back very quickly if a Corps member resigns TFA – it’s basically like indentured servitude (I have heard from several Corps members in different regions this year who feel that they can’t quit their awful TFA situation because of the financial repercussions of having to quickly pay back transition funding and supplementary funding, etc. – they feel completely stuck). Fortunately, I didn’t have to get any of this additional supplementary money from TFA. Also fortunately, I found a couple of jobs that add up to decent paying full-time work almost immediately after I quit TFA (although they’re definitely nothing permanent or career building) and that’s enabled me to keep up with my TFA and college loan payment plans, keep paying rent on my apartment, etc. with minimal difficulty.

      • snowapple says:

        Hi There,
        I too am a recent TFA dropout and shared many of the experiences that you did. Basically, set up for failure. I was wondering what happened with your tuition fees. I only attended 3 nights of classes, but fear the university is going to hit me up with up to $6000 in fees (ironic, it’s about what I made working as a teacher). How am I supposed to pay that back when I am now unemployed? TFA claims that they have no say in what happens. I think TFA would benefit from being more transparent and future corps members really need to be informed of what they are getting into. Thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone.

  4. vanmetek says:

    Hi, so my friend just quit TFA because it literally caused her to have a complete breakdown. Now she says that she’s going to have to pay TFA 5,000$ in 30 days. Is there no way to do a payment plan for her loan? She hadn’t been placed at a highschool yet, so I don’t know if that makes a difference.

    • jasherwilliamson says:

      Ah, I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s probably not much comfort for your friend, but she should know that she is far from alone in terms of TFA Corps members who have basically had very serious and dangerous mental breakdowns from doing the program. It’s all together far too common. It’s a shame how the organization preys on well-meaning young people – using and abusing them to the breaking point in many cases.

      It also is unfortunate how TFA basically indentures young people to work for them and ensnares them financially through ‘transition loans’, ‘placement funding’ and so on. I think generally Corps members who quit the program before their two years are up have to pay back any transitional loans or ‘placement funds’ back within a month of quitting and are no longer allowed to do the typical two-year repayment plan that you are on if you persist in the program. I guess I got lucky (maybe because of how angry my resignation letters were and how I requested not to have to pay back my transitional loans at all? Or maybe because I threatened to go to the news with my story? Or maybe because they just forgot about me?) and I have just been able to pay back my hefty transitional loan in monthy increments over a two-year-period, so that helped a lot.

      My former roommate who quit TFA before I did this last year had to pay them a good chunk of money pretty quickly though, so I’m not sure there is an easy way out of owing TFA plenty of money. It’s borderline criminal how they enslave ex-Corps members financially in many cases. “Hey, let’s promise these Corps members all these things, then not come through for them and when they are put in impossible situations and have mental breakdowns because of the stress/exhaustion, then let’s hammer them financially and make them pay us back everything they owe us right away!” It’s sick and twisted – not to mention completely unethical (TFA basically completely ruins or at least derails so many promising young people’s lives :-(, but I wish your friend luck.

      I would maybe threaten to go to the news with her story and I have some people she should talk to if she is interested in ‘recovery from TFA’ support…hopefully that helps!

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