I went to my local coffee shop to work for awhile this morning. This is a small, local business, often busy at this time of year, but this morning, it was even busier than usual.
I wandered with my coffee to the back of the space and had to look hard for an open chair. There was a group of eight 20-somethings in the very center of this space, all with laptops open, all earnestly listening to one guy talking back there, all asking questions and taking notes. It was clearly some kind of training. I saw a chair on the far side of the group and had to interrupt and ask two of these folks to move over just so that I could get to the open chairs.
When I first sat down, I heard the leader telling them how and when to send messages to college staff and advisers — so my ears perked up a bit. But then I want back to my work because it seemed to be all about tools for sending blanket emails, strategically timed messages, tools for tracking contacts and the standardized wording to use in communication.
A couple of other people left, so this group re-arranged themselves to take up even more space. Several other people came to the edge of the group with their coffee, looking for a place to sit, but couldn’t get past the group to get to the few empty seats.
As the group resettled themselves, I noticed that among the 8 of them, there were only two beverages, and one of those was from the Starbucks down the street. This, in this small, local business.
I was already getting pretty annoyed with them, so blantantly ripping off the great owners of this coffee shop and being so obviously clueless about how much social and physical space they were taking up. I kept telling myself that the owners must be on board and had invited them to use their space.
So I went back to work.
But then I heard “Teach for America“.
So I gave up even pretending to work. I heard about the tools that the leader was showing on his laptop for coordinating multiple messages to TFA applicants and their college advisors. They talked about sending emails strategically on Sunday afternoons. They talked about asking “how’s that application coming” and when to ask it for maximum effect.
They talked about some trick for sending messages that say, falsely, “sent from my IPhone”. They loved hearing about that trick.
They talked repeatedly about how many contacts to make “close to the application deadline”.
Someone asked about actually meeting those getting all these messages and the leader said something meeting “those you think look competitive”. So clearly, they all knew that at least some of the people who’d be getting all of this “personal” encouragement to apply would never be accepted.
Someone asked if applicants ever catch on that everyone is getting these same “personal” messages, but someone else said they wouldn’t, and someone else offered something to say to explain that away in case they did.
Their tactics sounded familiar, of course. Many colleges knock themselves out generating as many applications as possible, knowing full well that they’ll reject most of them, all so that they can boast that they are “competitive”. Funders love intense competition and survival of the fittest and all that.
More customers came and went with nowhere to sit.
And they kept talking and talking and earnestly taking notes, blocking anyone trying to get to the few empty seats still open in the whole shop.
One of the owners came back, looked at the group, looked at me, and raised her eyebrows. I went to talk to her, told her that this was Teach for America with a 9 figure endowment.
A few minutes later, the other owner came back and very politely reminded the leader that they have a posted 30 minute limit on computer users.
The leader’s first response: “If we buy things now, can we stay?”
A woman in the group said “Sir, we’re actually not on the internet”. You know, because poaching the actual space wasn’t the problem.
The owner just politely reminded them again of the posted 30 minute limit.
They started packing up, talking about moving to a different coffee shop down the street that was “pretty big”.
All of this, mind you, is in a business district where there are hundreds of square feet of meeting space for rent.
I talked to the owners after the TFAers left. They had already told the TFAers before I came in that they couldn’t meet without buying something so one had bought some espresso beans and one bought an iced tea. I talked more with the owners about the millions that TFA has gotten from “reform” foundations and how the “teachers” come disproportionately from pretty advantaged backgrounds.
They said ” yeah, that’s always the case, isn’t it? Those with the most think they deserve the most”.
I finished my coffee and gave up my seat.
This was a group of 8 from a huge organization. I obviously can’t generalize from their obnoxious behavior to all of Teach For America.
But their sense of entitlement was breathtaking.