"Oh, so you just want to teach?"

An autoethnographic account of one traditionally trained teacher in a TFA-hiring school


  • Gretchen Cook University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Dr. Ashlee Anderson University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Teach for America, autoethnography, traditionally trained, sociocultural policy, counternarrative, psychology, reform, teacher


With this paper, we present an autoethnographic analysis of one traditionally trained teacher’s experience working in an urban charter school with predominantly TFA-trained colleagues. To begin, we provide a review of literature that highlights the research landscape’s hyper-focus on the experiences of TFA CMs, after which we describe the theoretical work that has informed this study, most notably Thomas (2018), who uses sociocultural policy studies to describe how TFA CMs embodied controversial education policies. We then outline our methodology, which we label autoethnographic counternarrative, and present our findings/analysis, focusing on the following thematic elements: 1) Just being a teacher and 2) Psychology of novice teachers. To conclude, we discuss various implications of this work for teacher education, as well as the teaching profession at large, paying particular attention to the ways in which neoliberal education reforms, including TFA, effectively incentivize the individualization of teaching (and learning).

Keywords: Teach for America, authoethnography, traditionally trained, sociocultural policy, counternarrative, psychology, reform, teacher

Author Biographies

Gretchen Cook, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Gretchen Cook is a doctoral candidate of cultural studies of education in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Her research interests are two-fold— female teacher identity formation and patriarchal structures in charter schools. She adopts the methodologies of feminist autoethnography and ethnography to serve her research demands. For "fun", she also is interested in critical animal studies, and exploring the human/animal relationship. She serves as a graduate teaching assistant at the university, and teaches Cultural Studies 200: Survey of International Education.

Dr. Ashlee Anderson, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Ashlee Anderson is a clinical associate professor within the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee. Her primary research interests are foundations of education/sociology of education, teacher education/teacher development, qualitative research methodologies, education policy and reform, international education, equity and social justice, and cultural studies in education.