My first post

This is a great idea to have this blog site. There used to be a message board on the TFA website for alumni, but TFA decided that they didn’t like some of the things being posted there, and it was shut down about five years ago.

Maybe this is an opportunity for TFAers to share their thoughts.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with TFA since I got into the program in 1991. I had a really tough first year of teaching, but then I figured out what I needed to do and had a great 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year in Houston.

I wrote a monthly column for the Houston TFA newsletter. Those columns eventually became an actual book ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ I’m really proud of that. It describes the good and bad of TFA and of teaching.

Well, I was ‘in’ with TFA for about two years. They asked me to speak at a couple of things and then I became a CMA for the summer of 1996 in Houston. I had some problems getting along with some of the staff. It seemed like they were pretty intolerant of differing points of view. Maybe it was me that was intolerant. I’m not sure.

After that, I was ‘out’, though I continued to speak at the New York institute and do a workshop on classroom management there. Then, last year, I was told that I couldn’t do the workshop anymore, and I haven’t been involved since.

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to help new teachers still. I teach a course for the New York City Teaching Fellows. Also, the NYCTF program purchases a copy of my book for all of the fellows, so I’m getting my message out there more than ever.

Basically, I give the non-sugar coated story about how hard teaching can be when you go into it overconfident. I needed someone to tell me something like that before I started my first year, but if they told me it, I didn’t believe it.

My impression is that TFA still sugar-coats how tough things can be, or they make it so some people make it through training without fully believing how hard the first year is when you’re unprepared.

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4 Responses to My first post

  1. Ms. W says:


    FWIW, I loved your book and found it very helpful. I’m only sorry that I didn’t come across it sooner in my teaching career.

    They don’t seem to have “outsiders” doing those workshops at institute anymore. When I was at the 05 Institute in Houston they very proudly told us that we were the first Corps not to have to do them. Instead all our sessions were run by CMAs or other institute staff. I’m not really sure why this was considered a good thing. Mostly it made for a very insular point of view, which I suppose answers my question.

    Thanks for posting here, I really appreciate your thoughts.

  2. ms math las vegas says:

    I’ve wanted to write a book about education too. I’ve blogged faithfully while teaching. Sometimes I feel, like when applying to work at institute that my experiences were too negative as well. I know they don’t want me telling new corps about being sexually harassed by boys only a bit younger than myself and laying on my very dirty floor crying.
    How did you get your book published?

  3. garyrubinstein says:

    The strategy I used for getting a book published was to first get some articles published in Teacher Magazine and Education Week. Then I used those as ‘proof’ to a small publisher that I had credibility. Now I’m working on a second book for a bigger publisher,

    You’re right that TFA would not want you telling new corps about some of the major challenges of teaching. If you’re applying for an institute job and they ask you the question ‘What were some of your biggest challenges?’, you’re better off telling them that the hardest thing was dealing with the negativity of the non-TFA teachers.

    As diverse as TFA claims to be, they are very careful to get an institute staff where everyone is like-minded. The trainers are very optimistic and it would not be likely to tell about being harassed or other really tough scenarios. So the staff consists of 1) Dynamos who were so good that they figured out how to avoid many tough situations, 2) People who got a little lucky for not having to deal with those situations, or 3) People who went through some tough times, but agree with TFA that for the sake of the new corps, it would be better not to warn them about it.

    I know about this rosy picture they paint because I’ve, throughout the years, presented, at induction, a workshop on classroom management. I talk, very candidly, about my first year. At the end, I receive feedback forms that say things like “Finally, someone who is telling us how hard teaching can be.” But they need to know how hard it can be so they go in with the right amount of seriousness and preparation. It’s like climbing Mount Everest without ever hearing about how people have died or lost limbs while attempting it.

  4. Phil Potter says:


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