Here’s a revised version of my resignation letter, which I wrote up after TFA asked me to re-write my first one:
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 solely on myself. I feel that I was put in deeply unfair and impossible situations numerous times with very little practical support or training and my mental and physical health was significantly harmed as a result.
TFA made the troublesome decision to place teachers at a brand new school that had no guarantee of enrollment numbers, greatly impacting my chance for success as a teacher. It is difficult enough to be a successful first-year teacher with one steady class, much less being bounced around to three entirely different grade level classes within the first three months. Also, I was trained to teach high school yet was hired by an elementary school. While I could get by 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 received very little helpful on-going support or feedback on my teaching. I had one semi-formal observation of my 2nd grade classroom by TFA staff members and never received the feedback notes from this and while TFA staff members visited my classroom to help out a few other times, through all of this I was given little advice beyond “Give clear instructions, be more structured and watch some videos on TFAnet” and empty guarantees that next steps would be taken to help me further. This is unhelpful advice when there are children in my classroom who are chasing each other around with scissors, doing back-flips off of the desks and threatening to kill themselves on a regular basis. There was never any hands-on instruction or workshop day offered where I could practically learn the skills of being a younger elementary teacher through seeing modeling, practicing skills, etc. I also never knew the content of the ongoing meetings between TFA and my school’s administration and instead I was removed from the class by my school before very much of this promised “additional support” from TFA materialized.
After being let go from the Detroit Leadership Academy, I was told by TFA 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 English Language Arts since I had been doing such an excellent job with the 5th grade class. The school also was interested in bringing me back part-time as a teacher’s aid for the remainder of the year. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue successfully in the teaching profession and to learn additional skills from experienced and talented educators at the school; however, TFA was inflexible and instead sent me into a horrific 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 an impossible situation to place a first-year, untrained teacher in – especially when I only had several hours notice before entering the classroom and was two days removed from my horrible 2nd grade classroom experience. Additionally, there was very little emotional or psychological support from the organization. After realizing I was entering an unhealthy place mentally, I reached out to TFA for psychological support and was referred to a “TFA counselor” who I promptly emailed. This counselor referred me back to my program director who had referred me to him in the first place as well as directing me to several blogs. Again, this was entirely unhelpful. I strongly suggest TFA bolsters its psychological and emotional support resources rather than just paying lip service to the idea of work-life balance while constantly throwing more work on corps members.
This experience has been six months of my life that were financially, emotionally and physically draining. While I believe many staff members in TFA: Detroit are caring people who work hard and mean well, my experience with the program as a whole was disheartening and has made me seriously doubt the efficacy of TFA as an education reform movement. Because of my experiences with TFA here in Detroit, I can no longer support the organization nor do I see it as an effective way of tackling the problems with education in this country, although I hope to remain involved in education in a different capacity in the future. The results from this first-year charter corps – corps members dropping out of the program, being overwhelmed mentally and physically, being forced to resign from schools or fired, etc. – is a noticeable problem and should be alarming to the organization.
Ultimately, I am aware that there were many factors involved in my negative experience this year – not all of which TFA had total control over. I am sure there are many different perspectives people have about what happened with my situation and perhaps I should have just been able to “tough it out for the kids.” However, I pushed myself further than was healthy and at that point, it became time to cut my losses and move on. And again, I would like to emphasize that I know there are many wonderful, hard-working, caring people on staff with TFA-Detroit. However, I continue to feel that I received an awful experience with TFA in coming here and was never given a real chance to succeed as an educator.