A Sistah Circle of Seven: Black Women's Self-Perceptions of Their Teach for America (TFA) Experiences in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region

Patricia Joann Lesesne, University of Pennsylvania


The opportunity gap, disproportionately disadvantaging Black students in the United States, has persisted for over sixty years. For the past three decades, education reform organizations characterized as neoliberal, such as Teach for America (TFA), have attempted to address these problems. Although TFA has had significant influence on the education of Black children through their strong political power and financial backing supporting their training and placement of teachers in predominantly Black schools, the effectiveness of their efforts has been met with less than stellar success. Concurrent with the efforts of TFA, the numbers of Black public school teachers are diminishing. Black teachers comprise less than seven percent of public school teachers, and the attrition rate among Black teachers is significantly higher than white teachers. This is concerning because research has determined Black teachers to be generally more effective with Black students than white teachers. This effectiveness appears to stem from certain characteristics, roles and embodiments exhibited by successful Black teachers, referred to herein as the Black Teaching Tradition (BTT). This study adds to body of research on the BTT. Through centering the experiences of seven Black women, former TFA Corp Members (CMs), it also seeks to reveal the state of the BTT within neoliberal teacher training and placement organization, TFA. This qualitative study employs life histories methodology, including in-depth interviews with each participant and a focus group. Nine salient elements of the BTT constitutes the conceptual framework. Three findings emerged: 1. Black women enter TFA with ideals aligned with the BTT. 2. The enactment of these ideals is not affirmed by TFA staff. 3. Mentoring from Black veteran teachers, who are not TFA staff, is crucial for the affirmation and effectiveness Black women CMs. Together, these findings point to opportunities for TFA to improve their impact on the education of Black children by engaging veteran Black teachers versed in the BTT to mentor Black women CMs and lead staff in recognizing, developing and affirming BTT competencies.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Teacher education|Black studies|African American Studies|Educational sociology|Ethnic studies|Educational administration|Education Policy

Recommended Citation

Lesesne, Patricia Joann, "A Sistah Circle of Seven: Black Women's Self-Perceptions of Their Teach for America (TFA) Experiences in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28157533.