Date of Award

12-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Susan Benner, Judson Laughter, Patrick Biddix

Abstract

Teach For America (TFA), a non-profit organization that recruits top-performing recent college graduates and professionals into two-year teaching commitments in low-income urban and rural public school districts, remains a hot topic of research and debate in the education sector. With this dissertation, I explore how TFA is actively preparing its recruits (via its pre- and in-service support practices) for long-term investments in educational change, both inside the classroom and beyond. I do so via interviews with five TFA alumni (four identified by TFA and one by social media) who are no more than three years removed from the program and who taught in one of two cities in a southeastern state. The interpretive work was informed by my commitments to postcritical ethnography, which seeks to interrogate contexts of power, while at the same time taking seriously issues associated with positionality, reflexivity, objectivity, and representation. The participants shared that educational inequity, service, and career uncertainty/exploration were motivating factors in their decisions to apply to TFA, thus suggesting that TFA has been successful in its attempts to attract service-minded individuals who might not have had an early interest in education. Regarding their pre-service training, the participants all spoke about its intensity, and some described feeling that their training was inadequate. This preparation was supplemented by in-service support and training that was typically provided by TFA staff, alumni, and fellow TFA recruits (as opposed to school-based supports), thus revealing a distinct level of TFA-based insularity. Regarding their post-service activities, all the participants remain in education in some capacity, something that is actively encouraged and facilitated by TFA. However, their continued involvement in education is typically beyond the original placement schools, thus suggesting that TFA and the placement schools could do more to keep corps members teaching in their placement schools, although this is not their stated mission. Ultimately, these findings suggest that TFA might do well to provide more training, over a longer period of time, in the regions and content areas in which recruits will be teaching. Additionally, TFA (and placement schools) would do well to facilitate within-school connections and supports.

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