Playing the "where are they now?" game over what happens to Teach For America alums after leaving their stints in the classroom never seems to get old. Critics of one of the nation's largest employers of recent college grads have long asserted that the two-year commitment is unhealthy for the profession, to say nothing of the schools they leave behind. Of course such criticisms are predicated on an important assumption, that is, that TFA teachers all essentially leave after only two years. A new survey suggests otherwise.
In a survey of 2,000 TFA alumni, Susan Moore Johnson and Morgaen L. Donaldson learn that while more than half of those surveyed hadn't planned on teaching past their commitment, two-thirds in fact ended up doing so. A third of TFA corps members end up teaching for more than four years, with nearly that many (28 percent) exceeding five years.
The researchers also poke some holes in the theory that corps members are just resumé building. While it's true that the biggest reason for leaving (45 percent of those surveyed) is pursuit of greener pastures outside of education, a not insignificant portion (18 percent) report leaving because of poor leadership in their school or other school-based factors (i.e. inadequate discipline, lack of collaboration, etc.).
We were particularly intrigued by one golden nugget of a finding. Of the TFA corps members who majored in education (only 5 percent of the sample), many more stayed in teaching than those who had not, with 62 percent of these ed-school trainees staying for more than four years. Though their decision to stay may be attributable to having had a greater passion and commitment for teaching from the start, it also suggests that combining TFA's strong and rigorous admission requirements with some teacher training is a winning recipe for success.
TFA Teachers: How long do they teach? Why do they leave?
Morgaen L. Donaldson and Susan Moore Johnson, <i>Phi Delta Kappan</i>, reprinted in <i>Education Week</i>, October 4, 2011