I am an ’09 TFAer and let me be brutally honest – it will be the hardest thing you will ever do in your life. I was a ‘mature’ corps member as I was 30 when I started and had worked as a Child Protection Social Worker around the world for the previous seven years. I knew what I was in for but it still couldn’t have fully prepared me for the experience.
I am definitely not sorry I did it but you need to be prepared to have absolutely no life for at least the first year, but really both years of your teaching experience. The first year of teaching is ridiculously hard whether you go through TFA or a traditional program. I worked about 16 hours per day just trying to get on top of everything and I never felt caught up. You are also a full-time grad student during the first year – we had 8 hours of evening classes per week through a university. Some regions do their courses online, some only have classes for 4 hours per week, but in my region, it was 8 hours per week. When you’re trying to figure out how/what to teach the next day, you really don’t have time for grad school BS.
TFA does give you a lot of support but they also have very high expectations, which is fine because we all need to hold high expectations for every one of our students, but when things are really going pear shaped for you, they’re not exactly comfy, cosy shoulders to cry on. One of the key qualities they look for in a corps member is perseverance and an ability to problem solve – if you’re not willing to take the weight of the world on your shoulders, this is not for you.
That being said, TFA is EXTREMELY difficult to get into. When I applied, there was a less than 10% acceptance rate – with the poor economy, I think that number has gone down even further. It is a long, time consuming interview process (covers a period of more than two months) so just be prepared to put forth a lot of effort and maybe not have anything result from it.
I think everyone’s experiences are different. I taught in a traditional public school both years (as opposed to charter schools) and it was the most difficult situation of my life. Whereas charter schools have flexibilty in who they allow into their school and don’t have to follow the bureaucratic bullshit to the extent of the public school system, the traditional schools are slaves to the system. I taught in one of the roughest neighbourhoods in Chicago and extreme violence in my classroom was the norm. I taught middle school aged kids and drugs, gangs, shootings, fights, and extreme poverty were a part of my daily life. I am so thankful my background in social work prepared me for some of that as I was able to work through it but if you drink the TFA kool aid, they will have you believing that it just takes a bit of believing in your kids and they will all magically develop a love of learning and become model students. I wholeheartedly support believing in your kids 100% but just know that it’s not the sunshine and rainbows TFA would have you believe.
I think it’s a very worthwhile endeavour and if you choose to go down this path, I wish you all the best. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to participate in such a rewarding organisation but I am also EXTREMELY grateful it’s over now. I thought I wanted to be a teacher as a permanent career change, but now the thought of going back into a classroom makes me cringe. I think I will stick with social work, but I like to think that I may have just made a tiny bit of a difference to a few kids in my two years in the program.
ETA: Sorry for the novel length post! I just thought I would provide some first hand experience here.