Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 16 2011

residual TFA guilt

One of the things I dislike about TFA is that it ALWAYS makes you feel like you’re not good enough.  I know I still suck as a teacher in many ways, but I am making progress and my administration keeps telling me how great of a job I’m doing.  And every time I have an interaction with TFA (except for my awesome, Kool Aid-free MTLD), I feel guilty and tense.

I rarely take work home at night, and only do about 4 hours of work on the weekends, and I always always always feel slightly guilty about that, because the TFA Teacher doesn’t get any sleep, ever, and works all weekend.  TFA may talk about having a work/life balance, but they don’t really want us to have one with all that they expect of us.

If I had just been an average joe CM that went into this experience without the desire to be a teacher long-term and with only the training given to me by TFA, I would have quit by now.  Truly. 

Thankfully I:

  • want to be a career teacher
  • have some experience/knowledge/training outside of the Kool Aid, and 
  • ignore most of what TFA says.

Does anyone else experience this never-good-enough feeling?  What do you do about it?

10 Responses

  1. amy

    one way that i justify my “non tfa” actions and lack of tfa followthrough is by reminding myself how much tfa as an organization has let me down, and this corps commitment is a two way street. so after asking and being promised help (that i really needed) by my MTLD and regional office dozens of times, and seeing literally zero follow through whatsoever, it’s pretty easy for me to take a guilt free sick day when i need to or even taking a personal day today. you gotta do you

  2. jlange

    Sometimes I stumble on to your blog and think to myself…
    ‘Wait. Did I blog in my sleep again?”

    Seriously though. ABSOLUTELY. I am the first at my school about 4 days of week and the last to go home about 3 days of the week. But. I don’t take much work home; I watch tv; I sometimes even eat dinner! I get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. And TFA or my school tells me suck most every day, so I wonder-should I feel this guilty about having a little bit of a life?

  3. Ms. Math

    umm… I was a bike racer while I was doing TFA because cycling was simple. Train harder. Get faster. Plus, working out everyday before it got dark gave me a reason I needed to leave. And when I was exhausted by a good workout I didn’t worry about school quite so much.
    Actually, the dissertation that analyzed TFA blogs found these as a theme-we don’t fell “TFA” unless we trash ourselves mentally and physically by working at all hours. Even though, most of us are completely overwhelmed by working 40 to 60 hours a week.
    I feel you!

  4. eeodonne

    I just had this conversation with another one of the girls in my corps. We were discussing why people “dropout” of TFA. I think that TFA looks for people that are used to dealing with stress and multi-tasking. But they don’t prepare people for the level of guilt, they just keep pumping them full of kool-aid. I think that’s part of the reason that so many teachers (specifically TFA teachers) get so burnt out and leave.

  5. simplewords

    agreed. guilt is the worst, and it’s so hard not to get a good helping of it sometimes. Though I must say, some of us DO struggle. even putting in the extra million hours outside school, and then learning to balance it a little bit better, but still taking lots of time… I am not a great teacher. My kids are struggling and my management is awful. The thought of not taking work home is somewhat impossible. I’m so glad for those of you who CAN ‘just do your own thing’ and tell yourself the guilt is false, but the fact of the matter is that when you’re struggling, the guilt is crippling.

  6. tfaskeptic

    Fascinating. Are you guys for real? I’m a public school parent concerned about TFA. This is very interesting to read. I don’t fault you, just the organization.

    Ms. Math, could you point me to the dissertation about TFA blogs that you mentioned? Is it available to the public?

    Good for all of you for trying this and for being honest.

  7. simplewords

    tfaskeptic: I believe in the average tfa teacher far more than in myself, or the organization as the whole. The main thing tfa does, in my opinion, is find really amazing people. My mtld/regional staff are some of them. My fellow CMs are others. But being a CM? At least being a first year? Sucks. I hear that’s true of all teacher’s first years… unfortunately, that’s half our commitment, for those of us who just thought that this would be an awesome, change the world, two years of our lives. I may or may not have had a friend read me the important parts of a tfa email and then deleted it out of my inbox without reading it, because I just couldn’t handle any more “You aren’t working hard enough” after killing myself for two days straight, and still feeling like my classroom was a mess in every way possible.

  8. Demian

    Very interesting blog. I run a site called where I’ve linked to this and a couple other blogs of yours. Could I contact you to ask some further questions? My email is dgodon the_at_symbol

  9. Ms. G

    So I just googled “TFA guilt” because I am sitting here on a Monday night feeling COMPLETELY burned out from the day, and from a conversation I had with my MTLD last week in which she basically told me that despite the fact that I literally spend 2-4 hours on every single lesson plan, (which is 6 per week because I have two preps), my lesson plans “aren’t good enough,” I’m “not engaging my kids,” etc. The worst part, though, was when she said that I didn’t know my kids well enough to understand how to hook them, after I had just spent the previous half hour explaining to her the home situation and personal needs of an (one) entire class (of the 6 that I have).

    I am just feeling like I’ve done nothing for my kids and that the past year and three quarters have been a waste. Honestly, in many ways I feel like I’ve been more detrimental to my kids than helpful, despite the insane amount of effort I’ve put in.

    So, long story long, in response to your post– YES. The TFA guilt is REAL, man. and it’s absolutely debilitating.

  10. Kristen

    I just googled “TFA guilt,” and this post is what came up. I am so glad I found it. It is 9:31 on a Monday night, and I am still not done with my lessons for tomorrow, despite the fact that I worked for 3-4 hours after I came home from school tonight, through dinner, and really haven’t done anything else all night. I had mostly been feeling okay about school– my classroom has been a mess lately, and my kids are SO ready for spring break– but I was more able to relax than usual and kind of taking it all in stride. That was until I had a meeting with my MTLD on Friday, who basically told me that my classroom is not where it should be as a second year teacher and that everything I’m doing in my classroom is ineffective. The worst part was when she said this was a reflection of how I don’t know my kids well enough, despite the fact that I had just told her the life story of every kid in that class– and it’s only one of my 6 classes.

    So as I went to write my lesson plans tonight, the mantra was constantly going through my mind: “you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough. You’re not the teacher your kids deserve. Your lessons suck. You’ve made no measurable impact on their lives” etc. Needless to say, it was pretty hard to be productive.

    Long story long, I totally identify with your sentiments about TFA guilt. It is real, and it is absolutely debilitating.

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"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln