Teach For America Refused to Allow Oakland Teachers to Protest

As the majority of educators in Oakland got prepared to take part in protests, such a sublime act of civil disobedience, Teach For America began sending threatening emails to their corp members in Oakland. Teach For America is a credentialing program that takes individuals, usually white, young, and recent graduates from some of the most elite universities, gives them five weeks of training during the summer and places them in low-income communities as educators. Several weeks ago, Teach For America refused to allow their corp members to take part in the educator protests in Oakland.

Most TFA corp members receive educational funding through Americorps. As part of the guidelines for receiving Americorps funding, TFA corp members agree and sign a contract that prohibits them from participating in any form of political activity during Americorps hours. If corp members break this contract, Americorps can cease funding and are required to return a full payback of any funds previously provided. When TFA learned that educators in Oakland were preparing to strike, the organization thought it would be necessary to “remind” their corp members of this contract. In an email sent to their Oakland corp members, TFA stated that corp members would lose their Americorp funding if they participated in the protest.

TFA received enough backlash to prompt them to send a follow-up email telling its members that, were they to lose their Americorps funding for participating in the protest, money popped up from somewhere (who knows where?) that can cover any fund loses that corp members might experience as a result of participating in the protest.

Here is my question: Why did TFA wait for the backlash to show support for their Oakland corp members? It is obvious to any critically engaged member of society to understand that TFA doesn’t want to take any “PR” heat for sending a threatening email to educators who ALREADY work through less than desirable conditions. This is the only reason why TFA decided to follow-up with its corp members to offer safety funds in case it loses Americorps funding; the organization offered money to save face, not because it cares about their corp members.

The more I learn about TFA, the more skeptical I become about its system as a whole. TFA has abysmal teacher retention rates and parades a slight retention percentage increase whenever it becomes available in order to shed its horrid reputation of being an elitist, producer of white-collar workers. TFA has gone to the lengths of changing its own marketing from promoting education and educators, to promoting “a network of leaders” in order to shake off the responsibility of improving education in America. If TFA truly wants to lead in a revolution for equity in education, the obvious place to start is supporting educators who are willing to step out into the streets to take a stance. Maybe next time, it won’t take public backlash for TFA to realize that educators need support in moments of civil disobedience for the sake of education reform, not threats.

What do you think?

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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