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Reframing the Conversation: Insights from the Oral Histories of Three 1990 TFA Participants


by Bethany Rogers & Megan Blumenreich — 2013

Background/Context: Researchers have examined the challenges of staffing urban, underserved classrooms primarily through large-scale data sets; policymakers have responded with strategies intended to recruit more or “better” teachers into the classroom through programs such as the popular Teach for America. Yet there is little qualitative evidence regarding the experiences of such teachers, which could enhance existing understandings of such challenges and current attempts to solve them.

Purpose: This research examines the professional choices and trajectories of Teach for America participants over a twenty-year period, attending especially to individuals’ perceptions of their urban teaching experiences, their beliefs, and their reasons for staying in or leaving the urban classroom, with the aim of better understanding the experiences of such teachers and the implications for staffing urban schools.

Participants/Subjects: Research subjects included thirty participants from the inaugural cohort of Teach for America (1990-1992); this article focuses on the life stories of three such individuals.

Research Design: This study draws on oral histories conducted with thirty individuals who participated in the first cohort (1990-1992) of Teach for America. It analyzes their stories within the context of scholarly literature on teachers and teacher policy, urban teaching, and the historical period of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study suggests the nature of the contributions that nuanced, qualitative methodologies such as oral history can make. We found that, despite their initial differences from tradition-entry teachers, TFA participants’ reasons for staying in or leaving the urban classroom looked very similar to those of observed among the population of urban teachers at large. Our data thus raises a question of focus: is attending to the conditions under which all urban teachers work perhaps just as important as attracting new or purportedly better candidates into urban teaching?



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 6, 2013, p. 1-46
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16976, Date Accessed: 11/22/2014 11:34:43 PM

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About the Author
  • Bethany Rogers
    The College of Staten Island
    E-mail Author
    BETHANY L. ROGERS is Associate Professor in the Education Department at the College of Staten Island and also holds an appointment in the Urban Education Doctoral Program at the City University of New York Graduate Center. An education historian, her work focuses on the history of teachers, urban education, and school reform, and the links between those histories and contemporary policy. Her work has also been published in History of Education Quarterly, The Oral History Review, and The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture.
  • Megan Blumenreich
    The City College of New York
    E-mail Author
    MEGAN BLUMENREICH is Associate Professor of Childhood Education and Director of the Childhood Education Program at The City College of New York, CUNY. Her research interests include urban education, teacher inquiry, and qualitative research methodologies. She is co-author of The power of questions: A guide to teacher and student research, Heinemann, 2005 and Teaching matters: Stories from inside urban schools, The New Press, in press.
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