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Teach for America and the Machine Metaphor of Organizational Theory

Updated on December 18, 2012

Kiva Bottero defines the machine metaphor of organizational theory as follows:

The machine metaphor applies most to mechanized, routinized organizations like factories and the public service. Characterized by a need to create clearly defined roles for workers, these organizations tend to perform at high levels while dehumanizing their workers.

According to Taylor’s principles of scientific management, the selection of the organization’s members is key to ensuring its effectiveness and efficiency. Teach For America is extremely selective of its corps members, and prospective corps members are thrust into a rigorous, three-step application process that includes a lengthy online application, a 30-minute phone interview, and a full-day in-person interview where applicants present a sample lesson and participate in a group exercise. In 2009, 35,000 individuals applied for the program, and about 4,000 were selected to serve. The corps members earned an average GPA of 3.6 and had a combined SAT score of 1333; also, 89 percent held leadership positions as undergraduates students at some of the nation’s most prominent schools (2009 Annual Report).

Similar to how materials proceed through the production process to be developed and refined into an end product, individuals are expected to attend the rigorous five-week Summer Training Institute to become skilled, knowledgeable teachers ready to serve in low-income communities. After completing the Institute, during which corps members teach summer school and take training courses, they begin their two-year commitment teaching during the school day, attending night classes to earn a Master’s degree or teaching credentials, and then planning lessons and activities for the next day. While corps members are given the opportunity to be creative in their lessons and teaching styles, they conform to the general guidelines and requirements set by TFA to receive their credentials and successfully complete the program in accordance to the lofty standards of the prestigious organization.

There is a structural hierarchy within TFA. Outside of the Leadership Team, which includes the chief executive officer, president, and other members of management, there are 1,500 staff members divided among seven areas of responsibility including Finance and Infrastructure, Growth Strategy and Development, Human Assets, Marketing, Public Affairs, Program, and Regional Operations and Regions. There are 25 regional offices with an executive director, program directors, and other support staff who manage the corps members for their geographic area.

As with any educational institution or program, the focus is often on the numbers. Much effort is put into measuring and documenting the impact of the corps members on student achievement. Every year, Teach for America publishes an annual report in addition to other documents to demonstrate this impact, and as it strives for publicity, the organization encourages the media and other outside sources to report on its success; from 2008 to 2009, the number of articles written on TFA increased 125 percent (Teach for America, 2009). In addition, the organization must meet expectations in order to continue to receive funding.

With such an emphasis on results, it is possible that the consideration of corps member needs may be minimized. TFA does its best to control its environment and address the cause of any problems. Support is offered to struggling corps members through coaching and online forums, but this is to ensure that they continue to perform and meet goals. In a sense, the corps members are cogs in the machine designed to eliminate educational inequality.

The demanding nature of the experience takes its toll on the corps members; 12 percent do not complete the two-year commitment (Toppo, 2008), more than half leave their placement school after two years, and about 80 percent leave after three years (Heilig, 2010). In addition, the TFA training programs are much shorter than most teacher education programs, which typically run from one to two years; this may result a lower-quality “end-product.”


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    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I met a young woman who is part of "Teach for America" in Texas last winter. Really impressed by her and by the program-- one of the good things going on in America these days. Thanks for writing about it.

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      rorshak sobchak 6 years ago

      Great hub I really enjoyed it.

      rorshak sobchak

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      Oyewole Folarin 6 years ago from Lagos

      I hope other folks too should be able to come up with useful hub like yours. Voted up|