Calling all quitters

Air travel is one of the most dependable modes of transportation. You have at least a 99.99% chance of making it to your destination, alive, when you board a commercial airline. One reason for this is that when there is an actual plane crash, the airline will invest a great amount of time, money, and energy into finding out exactly what happened, why it happened, and use that information to formulate a plan of how to prevent the same type of accident happening in the future.

I have a theory, which I’d like to try to verify, that TFA does not try to do a similar thing when the equivalent of a crash happens — a CM quits. My feeling is that when a CM quits (which happens, to the best of my knowledge, about 9 or 10 percent of the time), TFA does not invest much energy into trying to figure out exactly what happened and how possible inadequacies in the training and support models could have contributed to the disaster. Instead, I believe, they blame the CM, say that they didn’t internalize the core values — they didn’t make big plans, invest students and families, plan purposefully, and otherwise pursue the goal of closing the achievement gap in a relentless enough way. If I’m right, and only people who have actually quit will be able to help me out on this one, then TFA is missing a very important opportunity to improve.

Now, if you’ve quit, you should know, I don’t think poorly of you. By all measures, I probably should have been fired or quit by my third month of teaching. Really, there were only two things that kept me from quitting. One was based on luck — I had such great friends that helped me get through it. We’d get to school at 6:30 AM and leave at 6:00 PM, so the four or so hours that I was actually in front of a class was only about 33% of my day. The rest of the time, we planned a little, but mostly just traded war stories and laughed a lot about our situation. The other thing that kept me in the classroom was that I really didn’t have any ‘Plan B’ — there was no deferred law school acceptance or anything like that. So please don’t take offense to being called a ‘quitter’ in the title of this post. It’s just the dictionary definition of what you are, and there’s not intended to be any judgment attached.

I’d like some of you to comment on this post, and I’ll create some new posts that will quote your comments. As this is one of the top 10 blogs, this is also an opportunity to get your voice out there in case you’re feeling ignored by TFA or feel that you have been slighted in some way and want to vent some frustration.

The thing I’m wondering about is how seriously TFA treated you after you quit. Have you heard from them again? Was there any kind of final feedback form you had to fill out or were you just forgotten about? Do you think that TFA does try to learn about how they can improve to prevent future people from quitting, or do they pretty much blame it on you for not following the core principles blindly enough?

So feel free to comment here, or if you don’t want to do that, you can email me at my name (first and last, all one word) at I look forward to hearing from you.

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22 Responses to Calling all quitters

  1. 08 says:

    I didn’t quit and I’m not on staff, but I get the impression the organization pours quite a lot into figuring why CMs leave the organization. In the book, The Relentless Pursuit, the author follows a PD and details the process that occurs when one of his CM’s decides to quit. It sounded like the organization takes attrition really seriously and spent some real time trying figuring out why the CM quit. They also dived into whether there was anything they could do differently or if there were red flags in his application they missed.

    • bailey says:

      This was my impression as well from conversation with one of the managing directors in the Bay Area staff. As far as I know, TFA has a team of people dedicated to researching the teaching experience and application processes of those CMs who leave so that they can improve recruitment and training.

  2. Sunny says:

    From my own very recent experience quitting, I can tell you that I felt like TFA was blaming me for not working hard enough. Once I told my PD that I planned to resign, he first tried to convince me that he could help me work through my problems. Once it became more clear to him that I was set on leaving, he asked questions like, “Well, in the TFA interview the last question we always ask is if there is any reason you would consider not fulfilling your two-year commitment. How did you answer that at the time?” He said that my resignation would “threaten TFA’s partnership with my school district.”
    He then had various TFA alumni teaching in my district call me trying to talk (this was *after* I told him I had already given my principal my letter of resignation). My PD then requested that I forward him the letter of resignation that I gave my school. Last I heard from my PD, he texted me asking for my address. A few days later, I received a letter from TFA/my PD “accepting my decision to resign.” And on top of it all, I left for health reasons and my decision was never up for debate, so I didn’t appreciate being basically threatened when I had already made it absolutely clear that I *needed* to leave.

    Haven’t heard from TFA since (this was about a month ago). No one from TFA ever asked to meet with me in person to discuss my decision, not even my PD.

    Honestly, the experience felt kind of like what I imagine it would be like to try to get out of a cult.

    Feel free to contact me for more details.


    • Aree Byrne says:

      You felt you were being blamed? Well they are now trying to foist this program on us in Australia and that is what they say about us (four year trained education degree teachers). It is a cover up for lack of resources and a government unwillingness to provide the money that is required for public education. Sorry it got tough for you – but for most real teachers it is tough even with the proper education. It is a vocation – not a short term journey to a better career.

  3. Lindsay says:

    I was a 2010 CM placed in the Mississippi Delta region. I quit after about a month of teaching high school art. My reasons for quitting were 2 fold. First I was placed in a high school classroom. This was my absolute last possible preference. During institute I taught second grade, and all of my experience pre-TFA had been with elementary students. My second reason for quitting was due to safety concerns at my school. I had received several threats of violence, both written and verbal from students who were known gang members and who had violent behavior records. I expressed my concerns to my principal who was sympathetic and encouraged me to continue writing these students up. My PD on the other hand offered solutions that would do nothing to solve the problem. I expressed my frustration that I had never received any support or resources regarding classroom management for high school. He quoted Teaching As Leadership to me, and didn’t offer even the slightest concrete suggestions. I told him that I did not want to quit TFA, and that I would do ANYTHING to switch to an elementary position. Without ever consulting anyone else, he told me that this was impossible. I told him that I felt that quitting was my only option. All I was required to do was send him a letter of resignation. I never heard from TFA again. I would have been more than willing (even glad!) to fill out an exit survey. I think my experience is something TFA could have learned from. I didn’t want to leave Teach for America, I just could not teach high school…

  4. NorthernerInNashville says:

    A friend forwarded me this that someone I knew vaguely wrote up. It’s the most detail I’ve seen and I have a lot of respect for her for the decision that she made

  5. Michelle says:

    My main problem with anecdotal accounts like the one linked in the NorthernerInNashville (and with asking for anecdotal stories) is that we only get one side, and it is not a representative experience. The overwhelming majority of teachers are placed in the grade/content for which they train. This does not make it any less frustrating for someone who is the outlier, but people read accounts like this and judge all of TFA, not just one regional office or one person’s experiences.

    The time line here caught my attention. It seems like there was only one week from the time she met with the ED to the time she resigned? It does seem like there was a lack of communication or follow up communication during that interim week, but that just doesn’t seem like a lot of time to get something like this sorted out. In addition, sending a note about resigning in the morning on a Friday and expecting an answer that day seems like a pretty high expectation? It almost seemed as though she had her mind made up about leaving.

    The saddest part of all of this case and other cases of quitting is that students are left without a teacher. It seems like they would have been better off with their a TFA teacher who felt unprepared than with sub who might only have a high school diploma?

    -an early years alum-

  6. ED says:

    As a TFA alum, I’ll be the first to say that TFA is an imperfect organization. However, TFA is nothing if not self-reflective and to place the entire burden on TFA to meet the needs of 100% of applicants is unreasonable. First, very few, if any, teachers with little to no teaching experience at the large urban school where I worked were better trained than I. In addition, when a non-TFA teacher struggled in the classroom, she/he didn’t have a network of TFA staff and other corps members to support them. Teaching was hard. My school was a challenge. But unlike most new teachers in my building, I was not navigating my first year alone on an island. I had a program director whose job was to reply to my whiny emails with encouragement and patiently brainstorm solutions to my constant stream of questions. I had a professional staff that planned conferences, monthly curricular collaboratives, social events, and award ceremonies. Compared to my non-TFA colleagues, I was a spoiled princess. Expecting TFA to cater to my every need would make me a spoiled brat. TFA doesn’t hire corps members. My contract was with the School District of Philadelphia. Above all, I was committed to my students, and if I felt like TFA wasn’t helping me, I was the only person responsible for figuring out how to deal. If I was that dissatisfied with TFA, I could have always disassociated from the organization and remained in my placement school. If I was dissatisfied with my school, I could have applied for a transfer like any other teacher would.

  7. Patricia says:

    Shouldn’t schools/school districts be keeping track of why their teachers quit? I mean isn’t that THE problem in the “failing schools.” I think if TFA figured that out, they would do more for the state of education than by simply being a recruiter. I think Gary is on to something because the problem isn’t that schools don’t have qualified teachers (it’s evident by how many teachers got laid off last year in my district and districts across the US). The problem is that qualified teachers don’t teach in all schools.

    If anyone has seen The Wire, it’s interesting lesson to note that more than anything, a student needs a stable force in their life, someone who cares for them not necessarly someone who has the answers. So I would say that someone who cares for their students (all of them) is more effective than one that knows all the material. Though it’s ideal to have both. I would much rather my child have a teacher who cares than one who is misereable. No one wins in that situation.

    ED is also right about expecting an organization like TFA to cater to every need of a corps member. That never happens in any professional relationship, why should TFA be any different?

  8. Nyla says:

    I’m a current CM who is seriously debating leaving the program after the current school year ends. I am “non-traditional” (I worked in the professional world for three years).

    I am extremely unhappy and it’s effecting relationships with those around me. I feel like I am changing as a person, it to a person that I don’t want to or didn’t want to become. My patience used to be extremely long; now it is extremely short. I am teaching a subject area that I didn’t know prepare for nor that I feel comfortable teaching. Sundays are the most depressing day of the week for me (especially around 6 pm). I work all the time (I’m at a KIPP school) and I feel that if I don’t work I’m not going to struggle even more. I honestly feel like I’m spinning my wheels in the mud. I honestly considered teaching past the two-year commitment, but now I can’t envision myself teaching past next week. I feel that I am taking a position away from a person who is qualified and wants it. Especially since the furtherest thing from my mind is teaching beyond my two-year commitment. I know these may sound like selfish reasons to quit, I’m not sure what to do.

  9. garyrubinstein says:

    What is the main thing that is getting you down? Is discipline an issue at KIPP? Or is it just the process of creating lesson plans that work? Are you lacking support in materials or with dealing with kids? I don’t have a good sense about what you wish were different … could you be more specific?

  10. Nyla says:

    I don’t think I can give you one exact thing. I do not feel effective (nor does the data back me up). I feel that I am definitely not creating lesson plans that work. I am not engaging. In TFA terms I’m not “invested” enough.

    There are a lot of this that I disagree with at the school, but they aren’t causing my heartache. My biggest concern I feel is that I’m not teaching material.

    I sort of feel like Wade Phillips or another “player’s coach”, the players like me but the results aren’t enough to keep me hired.

    I worked for an educational non-profit before coming to TFA and I feel I’m coming to the realization that in order for me to contribute to closing the gap, I must do it from somewhere that is both rewarding for me and doesn’t make me hate life. Right now teaching is the opposite. I know there aren’t many (or any) specifics.

    I do plan to relay my feeling to my PD before I make any decisions and I also plan to finish this school year out.

    Thanks for the open ear, I guess I needed to vent.

    • IDK says:

      Hi Nyla,

      Just to give some background before I respond. I am a current corps member, teaching middle school math. I am in my first year. I have an undergrad degree in elementary education, and a lot of experience working with K-3 students. I currently work with 12-13 year olds who care more about attacking each other and avoiding work than mastering my class objectives.
      As I’m reading your post, I feel as though I’m reading thoughts from my own mind. I am stuck in this weird state of hating what I do, but not being quite sure WHY. My students aren’t AS bad as they could be, I simply don’t feel effective nor invested in what I am doing anymore. I feel as though there are other ways I could impact my studenets and I just don’t want to waste anymore of their time being horrible. I am going to finish out this year, but my mind is overcome by thoughts about my fuutre. I wonder if I quit TFA, if I would regret it. Would I be able to find a job without the interviewer thinking I was a “quitter”? Will my next year be easier, as so many corps members have told me before? The thing is, I don’t want it to be “easier”. I want it to be better for my students. I want them to learn so badly, but I’m no longer sure if I am the person to do it. Sometimes I wish I were placed in an elementary classroom, where I know methods of motivating young children and songs to help them learn basic math skills nad strategies to control even the wildest student. But here I sit, reading blogs to help me make a decision about my life.

      Sorry Gary if this doesn’t help you in trying to figure out why quitters quit. But I wanted to show my appreciation for Nyla for reminding me that I am not alone.

  11. Not Sure says:

    I’m in a strange predicament. I had some really horrible days my first semester but I also had some amazing days. The weeks leading up to winter break I was focused on the semester exam and not classroom management and my classroom fell apart. Although I was burned out and beat up I was looking forward to break and coming back the beginning of January with a revamped management plan and better lesson plans because I was learning and I thought my kids were learning something. Three days before break several teachers were let go because of problems in the district not because of us. The school was ultimately left with a couple teachers in my subject area and nothing being planned to remedy the problem. I am considering quitting TFA because I am non-traditional and I have a family to support and no viable placement alternative available. I have to have a job and if I go to my before teaching career so be it. Not what I wanted and I still haven’t decided but in the meantime I’m not teaching and my (former) kids don’t have a teacher. Heartbreaking! I finished my first semester tracking and my kids improved 30 percentage points from their beginning of year exam! So I was effective in some small way. I hope they keep that knowledge until they get another teacher in there but I doubt it. Not TFA’s fault, not my fault, but still making my decision a difficult one.

  12. Fantastic website! I apologize for the lengthiness of the post, but I definitely wanted to share my recent TFA experience.

    I’m a recent TFA drop-out and I’m still reeling quite a bit from everything that happened to me. In a nut shell, I joined Teach For America in the 2010 school year as part of the new Detroit Corps. I got off to a fine start – survived Institute just fine (was actually an all-star of sorts – although I thought it was virtually worthless in terms of preparing us to actually teach), met great fellow Corps members, was placed in a great, manageable, small 5th grade class at a really cool, brand new charter school, but then things quickly spiraled out of control about a month into the school year. The school I was placed at didn’t meet their enrollment goals as a first-year school, so they couldn’t make their budget and as a result (despite doing a great job – I was still a first-year teacher), I was switched from my 5th grade class to a 2nd grade class within the school, which was horrible. The kids hated me for replacing their beloved former teacher, acted out like crazy every day and I had no clue what to do with a bunch of savage 7-year-olds (although I tried everything I knew how to do, which wasn’t very much). After an exhausting, saddening month of failing miserably and wanting to quit every day I was pretending to teach in this classroom (I was trained for high school math during Institute by the way and told all along I would be teaching high school), the charter school decided to let me go and bring back the old teacher (which was definitely 1,000,000 times better for those students so I’m glad for that). Two days later with only a few hours notice, I was thrown into an even worse 7th grade classroom environment in a Detroit public school (a class that had already driven out multiple teachers with their unmanageable behavior). I had no control or choice over this replacement as I went on my own to DPS HR to see what positions were available and I was denied efforts by TFA to defer for a year so I could teach 6th grade at the original charter school I was at. Having been utterly worn down by my 2nd grade experience, this class felt like walking back into a war zone and I guess my body/mind just couldn’t take anymore and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. At this point, I stopped sleeping for several days straight and started having major anxiety attacks from the stress and things just got worse and worse. After multiple hospitalizations, getting on numerous anti-anxiety medications (which I had never, ever taken before in my life) and a trip to the Detroit psych ward (where I was locked in for 7 hours), I finally resigned from TFA and began my recovery process.

    TFA and my PD through this whole process were worthless and did little except spout TFA-isms at me. I have many other problems and questions with what transpired in my TFA experience, including: “Why TFA thought it was ever a good idea to place Corps members at a first-year charter school that had a chance of not making its enrollment numbers hence guaranteeing they wouldn’t keep their original class no matter how great of a job they were doing?” and “Why TFA refused to let me defer for a year and come back to teach 6th grade at my original placement when this is what the school wanted, what I wanted and what would have been best for the 5th graders I was teaching?” These are just a couple of the questions pertinent to my experience that I wonder about on a regular basis. I’m definitely incredibly saddened and disheartened by my experience and resignation, since I very much thought I wanted to teach and be involved in education (I had worked for a college-access non-profit organization for the two years prior to joining TFA and loved it) and felt this was my pathway to do so. I certainly never had the mindset of “two years of this and then law school.” However, my situation obviously quickly became incredibly unhealthy for me and I know that if I am honest with myself, I am a million times happier now (I deliver pizzas and work with a special-needs kid in Detroit) than I was trying to teach in those 2nd grade and 7th grade classes…and that’s a reality that I’m still trying to grapple with and accept (although my having had a brief taste of teaching success in my original 5th grade class placement makes it all that much more bitter/sad to think about).

    In terms of what happened when I resigned, I wrote TFA a very honest, straight-forward, no-holds-barred resignation letter detailing how I was furious with them and felt that the organization repeatedly put me into awful situations through no fault of my own and that I had done everything I could and pushed myself to a very unhealthy psychological place and now needed to leave for mental health reasons. It also detailed how I could no longer support the organization as an education reform movement (a position I still absolutely hold, although I love and respect many of my fellow Corps members in Detroit – they are wonderful, hard-working people doing the best they can, but I know many of them are miserable and stressed out all the time and I doubt very many of them are more effective than traditionally trained teachers). The letter was bothersome enough to TFA staff that it earned me a meeting with the Director of TFA Detroit and other staff members –a meeting where they brought in physical print-outs of emails my PD had sent to me (as if that somehow proved how they actually had supported me enough) and asked me to re-write my resignation letter (I assume because they thought it looked bad and they had to send it on to national staff or something?). I also sent my story/resignation letter to several newspapers here in Detroit, started a “recovering from TFA” blog and am still on most TFA email lists. That was about it. I haven’t been in contact with anyone from TFA staff since my meeting although I imagine if a story about my experience gets published in a Detroit newspaper anytime soon, I will be hearing from them pretty quickly – can’t wait.

    Anyway, I would love to converse more with you or anyone else who reads this blog. My new website is “” (my resignation letters are posted there) and my email address is I’m still pretty furious/upset/discouraged about everything that happened and it will doubtless take some more time to recover, but life goes on and I refuse to let this experience keep me out of being involved in education in some aspect in the future.

    Keep up the great writing! It’s much appreciated (and very cathartic) by those of us who have been utterly wrecked by the awfulness of TFA and other like-minded education-reform movements.

  13. Woah, there, TFA says:

    I wanted to share my pre-TFA experience… I was recently accepted to the TFA 2011 program year and I declined the offer as I’ve already accepted an offer with a similar program that is going to fit my lifestyle and needs more appropriately. I got all the ‘congratulatory e-mails’ and when I wrote to let them know ‘thank you so much, but…’ all I got back was a badgering of questions, such as “Why didn’t you wait to hear from us before you committed? Do you know what you’re going to be missing out on?, etc.” I was very shocked and offended and they haven’t backed down! What’s the deal?

    Perhaps they’re upset because I took someones spot? Or because they took time to review all of my application? Or because I’m going to be taking part in a ‘rival’ program? Whatever it is, I was appalled at the audacity of the responses I got from recruiters and directors…

    Now, I must end-face with this… The TFA recruitment and admissions process was a positive experience. I actually enjoyed the interview day and getting to meet other great people. And obviously I support the mission, but I don’t support their relentless pursuit (no pun intended) when someone has made a decision for their life that is appropriate for them.

  14. Pingback: Quit rate for ‘misplaced’ CMs? | Gary Rubinstein's TFA Blog

  15. Ms. Math says:

    I think that the main reason that I didn’t quit teaching was that I’ve never quit anything before and it didn’t seem like the time to start even if my parents thought I should because I was so mentally unhealthy.

    But I think the second biggest reason that I didn’t quit was the support I got from being part of a group of teachers. Many of the non-TFA teachers at my school quit and I always thought it was because they didn’t expect it to be so hard and were not part of a group of people facing similar challenges.
    Teaching is hard, hard work and I’m not sure it would be possible to lower the quit rate too much more than the national average no matter how people are supported.

  16. outoftheblue says:

    I quit at the beginning of Year 1, Week 3. I was assigned to a self-contained SPED classroom for students with severe emotional disturbances with no different/extra training than the generic Institute training. After two solid weeks of daily physical assaults from my students (including hits, kicks, punches, choking, and attempted stabbing), I quit. Eight months later, I still have PTSD-like flashbacks on a weekly (often daily) basis. It broke my heart to leave TFA, because I fully believed in (and still believe in) the organization. I knew I would not be fully prepared when I entered the classroom, but I trusted TFA to prepare me more than they did, or to not put CMs in classrooms as severe as mine was.

    In their defense, they asked if I would be willing to teach in a severe emotional disturbance class, and I said yes. In my defense, I said yes because it was being heavily implied that we would be trained to handle it, and that if we didn’t say yes, we probably wouldn’t get a SPED class (and SPED is my passion and my background– and what I am doing now that I have left TFA), and harder SPED with training seemed more doable than something I had 0 background in, like high school science.

    When I asked for help, I was given reassurance that “things aren’t that bad.” My PD didn’t see physical assaults against me during the brief observations she did, but blew me off when I tried to point out the discrepancy between what she saw in her one observation and what was happening on a daily basis. When I made my intentions clear– called her before school one morning in a full-blown panic attack and let her know I Could Not Continue Like This– I had a meeting with TFA. With my principal’s blessing, I began the resignation process.

    At that meeting, they read my statement of purpose to me. They read the recommendations my professors had written to get me into TFA to me. They reminded me of all my great qualities, of why they hired me, of why I Could Do This. They listed my achievements from Institute. They praised me, tickled my ego, said every nice thing they could say. And when that didn’t work, they listed my students by name and reminded me of how much I would be hurting them by leaving. They reminded me of how much I would be hurting the relationship between TFA and the school district. The told me that things were not as bad as I said they were. They told me I was exaggerating, and that the problem was my pessimistic mindset.

    Institute was the greatest experience of my life, and I still believe strongly in the mission of TFA and support the work the organization does. Quitting was the hardest decision I have ever made. But there is NO reason CMs should be put in classrooms for students with severe emotional disturbances with 0 training. Those students need teachers with training to handle their psychological needs.

    TFA never followed up with me for more information about why I quit. They put all their energy into “How can we keep you from quitting?” and then cut off all communication once I let them know that they answer to that question was “Nothing.” Interestingly, I was also never taken off of their email listservs– I’m still emailed every month with region updates and reminders to attend mandatory professional development events.

    Sorry for the rant. Feel free to contact me with any questions– my email is lifesnotasong(at)gmail(dot)com

  17. Heather says:

    I am labeled a quitter, but I do not consider myself one.

    At the end of December during my first year as a corps member, I was moved to a school that did not want me and did not have room for me. They wanted a computer lab teacher. Instead, they gave me 6th grade. They had all of the 6th grade teachers select the students they didn’t want anymore, and that hodgepodge became my class.

    But it gets worse. There was no room in the school for me, so I taught these kids in the school auditorium. We lacked even the most basic supplies. I felt like I was teaching in a 3rd world country.

    Still, I stuck it out. I didn’t even consider quitting. The school was an hour from my apartment, and I stayed.

    Eventually, they found a classroom for me. But, over the summer, the principal let me know that I would have to be placed in the school auditorium once again. I could not begin to face that for another school year. I talked to my TFA PD about this, and I let her know I was going to try to get placed back at my old school. She even helped me draft a letter to my former principal. As it turns out, that principal did not have a vacancy, but another principal did. I accepted the position without a second thought, largely because the school already had 8 alums and corps members. It was DEFINITELY a TFA school. However, I was told after the fact that I would be kicked out of TFA for changing schools.

    I completed my year at that school, right alongside tfa corps members. I even mentored a first year teacher AT THE REQUEST of a TFA PD.

    Still, I am labeled a quitter. I’m now in my 9th year of urban teaching, by the way.

  18. simplewords says:

    I don’t have a ton to say, except that yes, quite a few of our incoming corps quit this year. I would have to say, though, there’s a commitment from both the staff AND the remaining CMs right now to do WHATEVER it takes for that not to happen again. Not that I judge those who quit. Sometimes I question if I should be one. But I just have to disagree with your statement that TFA “doesn’t care” or “doesn’t notice.” Whatever can be said about the organization, all the PEOPLE I’ve met who work for the organization are phenomenal, and I think that needs to be taken into consideration.

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