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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Legitimizing the Dilettante: Teach For America and the Allure of Ed Cred


Teach For America (TFA) corps members, in reflecting on their experiences, have described their motivations to join the program as idealistic, ambitious, and “profound drives to effect educational change” (Crawford-Garrett, 2012, p. 27) that eventually had to be reconciled with unexpected, harsh realities—both in their placement schools and in the TFA program itself. Matsui (2015) argues that popular culture is the source of this unrealistic idealism about teaching. This hero teacher narrative is a familiar theme in films such as Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and Freedom Writers, as well as in documentaries such as Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, some of which feature TFA teachers. TFA taps into this vein of popular idealism in its recruitment efforts. This post-intentional phenomenological study sought instances of the hero teacher narrative in the beliefs and motivations of TFA applicants and pre-service corps members—not as post-service reflections, as with many counternarratives, but in pre-service interviews, before conceptions of their initial intentions could be reconstructed by considering actual experiences. Findings suggest that TFA applicants may be pursuing ed cred, a unique conceptualization of legitimacy that blends the competence of professional mystique and the competitive hero teacher narrative with three new experiential variations: the drive for credibility, preference for convenience, and need for a credential. Implications for policy and leadership are discussed.


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