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When Will Teach for America Teachers Shake the "Savior" Stereotype?

Ohio governor John Kasich offensively calls TFA corps members the "calvary". What gives with the persistent stereotype?


Here's one image problem that Teach For America can't seem to shake: TFA teachers as saviors. The stereotype of their teachers (called corps members) as the great hope coming to save poor students of color from lazy, regular teachers reared it's head again on Wednesday thanks to statements by Ohio governor John Kasich.

Kasich signed a bill that will allow TFA corps members to be hired by school districts in the state starting with the 2012-2013 school year. He called the bill a "landmark day for Ohio education" and clarified that allowing corps members to come to Ohio isn't an attempt to replace current classroom teachers. You may not agree with Kasich's point of view, but that's pretty benign as far as statements go. However, things went south when Kasich then referred to corps members as "the cavalry", saying


"They're going to ride on white horses with white hats into our schools and be able to interject a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, talent, capability and real-world understanding."

Kasich calling corps members the cavalry implies that there's a war going on in our schools and TFA corps members are the soldiers coming in to restore order. Sure, many schools serving low-income students do need considerable improvement, but as an alumnae of Teach For America, this is the sort of language that makes me cringe, especially since respect and humility when approaching communities has long been a core value of the organization.

How does Kasich think such statements make the enthusiastic, talented and capable teachers with real-world understanding already working in Ohio's hard-to-staff, low-income schools feel? Probably not too valued. When TFA corps members show up next school year, what are those teachers going to remember? That these mostly recent college graduates are the saviors brought in to make everything right. Way to build a positive staff culture!

Unfortunately, Kasich probably won't be the last person to voice such sentiments, which makes me wonder, what needs to happen to kill off the TFA-corps member-as-savior stereotype for good?

photo via Wikimedia Commons

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