The trial by fire of Teach for America


By Donna Foote. Knopf. 352 pages. $24.95.

“Relentless Pursuit” is an aptly named account of Donna Foote's year embedded with four teachers in Locke High School in Los Angeles. All four were recent college graduates drawn by Teach for America's mission to help eliminate the achievement gap in America's underserved public schools.

It didn't hurt that in recent years Teach for America has developed a cachet among elite universities as a competitive organization accepting only a few of the best and brightest applicants. Corps members teach for at least two years while pursuing a graduate degree in education – a remarkable commitment considering that most applicants have never considered teaching as a career.

TFA is not without its critics, and Foote explains their concerns as well as delving into the self-criticism and constant tweaking the organization undergoes – the relentless pursuit required of everyone involved, from directors to teachers to students. She also goes into great detail about the training and professional development required of corps members and about the dual goals of providing classroom teachers as well as education advocates and reformers.

The consistent thread throughout the book is the story of the four novice teachers as they travel through the school year and grow in their understanding of how to teach. Foote is at her best when she describes the classroom interactions and the genuine affection and respect the teachers and students share. Unfortunately, Foote clouds the narrative with too many other points of view, including the principal, Locke staff and faculty, and TFA program directors and administrators.

This year as the teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's public schools headed back to the classroom, they were joined by hundreds of young Teach for America corps members. Like their counterparts in Los Angeles and the other areas served by Teach for America, these young teachers are eager to jump into the trenches and begin their own relentless pursuit of excellence. Donna Foote's book is a peek into the mindset of these dedicated young adults and offers an uplifting view of what will probably be the hardest years of their lives.