Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Recruiting in Classrooms???

The Answer Sheetover at the Washington Post recently ran an editorial by a professor at Fordham University about his reasons for not allowing Teach for America to recruit in his college classroom.  Mainly, he objects because TFA focuses on short-term rather than long-term commitments to teaching and as a result, he claims, “an organization which began by promoting idealism and educational equity has become, to all too many of its recruits, a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor.”

Like this professor, I don’t allow TFA to recruit in my classrooms at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Apparently, many of my colleagues feel the same way. When I noted this on Twitter and Facebook, the response was substantial.  Faculty from across the country said “me too,” “me too,” though only a few elaborated on why.

Those that did expound on their practices revealed that TFA’s strategy of in-classroom recruitment may have unintended consequences.  The professors, it seems, use it as an opportunity to describe the “cult-like” aspects of the program, the negative experiences other students have had with it, and the ways it undermines a focus on high-quality teaching and teacher retention.  No, this is apparently not limited to my colleagues in education or sociology; I heard similar stories in STEM disciplines too.

But regardless of whether the recruitment strategy employed by TFA works or not, and whether or not professors take kindly to it or not, my reason for not allowing TFA to recruit in my classroom is very simple:  My classroom is a place for education not solicitation.

The bigger question neglected by the Washington Post editorial—and the one that should be asked all over the country— is why is any organization seeking to take class time for advertising?  And why are universities allowing it? At most colleges and universities, solicitations are confined to public spaces. Why should this only apply to commercial solicitation? If TFA is allowed to recruit during our class time, then doesn’t any other potential employer have the right to? Do we professors really want to subject ourselves to fielding such requests?  Even if no endorsement is implied—and I believe that we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t understand that it’s inherent in opening the door—it still costs us limited instructional time.

There is a hypocrisy in future educators asking current educators to take time away from their teaching so that they can “pitch” students on their product. Teach for America is just one potential opportunity after all; there are numerous others out there.  Our job as professors is to help students develop the critical thinking skills needed to vet these options for themselves—not provide the time for advertisers to reach them.