What Teach For America Means For Classrooms

Katie Osgood describes what the implementation of Teach for America looks like in the classrooms of Chicago (boldface mine):

In places like my city of Chicago, TFA has come to represent a gross injustice from the very first day of training. TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms. Please understand that in Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year. These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support, many may have or eventually may need special education services. Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children. Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented. This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term. Those kids will never get that time back.

The sad thing is that TFA will tell you over and over again that you will be offering something “better” than our traditionally-trained teachers can provide. I want you all to understand what even first-year teachers from traditional teacher prep programs are offering. Pre-service teachers are slowly introduced into teaching, beginning with hundreds of hours of observation in multiple settings, with much discussion, reflection, and study of pedagogy and child development along the way. We slowly step up our practice to individual tutoring, small group instruction, and short whole group lesson plans before moving on to student teaching placements for many months. This model of teacher prep minimizes the effect on children, and creates safe spaces for new teachers to practice under the watchful eye of a mentor. Compare that to TFA’s model of novices taking turns teaching one single group of students for only four weeks then being placed in classrooms by themselves. Where is the time for observation and practice in many different settings/age groups/subject matters/ability levels? How can anyone even argue that the two types of training are comparable? And, if TFA truly offered higher-quality prep, why aren’t schools serving upper-income students demanding first year TFA teachers? The idea of course is preposterous. Upper-income parents would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children. So why should Chicago’s low-income students endure this type of injustice?

But don’t forget the union busting (boldface mine):

…we have thousands of displaced teachers looking for jobs, we have dozens of quality schools of education producing certified teacher candidates-many from the neighborhoods they hope to teach in-all looking for work in Chicago and other urban centers around the country. Just yesterday, I spoke with a fully-qualified new teacher who reported that she will likely have to take substitute positions or do after-school tutoring as there are no full-time jobs being offered in the Chicago Public Schools. Like so many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages. We have teacher surpluses. And yet, TFA is still placing first year novice corps members in places like Chicago. To put it bluntly, the last thing our students undergoing mass school closings, budget cuts, and chaotic school policy need is short-term, poorly-trained novices. Teach for America is not needed in Chicago. Teach for America is not needed in most places….

While school budgets are being slashed around the country, TFA has fundraisers raising millions of dollars in a single night, partners with corporate brands like J Crew or JC Penny to raise yet more money. And sTeach for America T-shirttill TFA requires districts to hand over thousands of dollars per recruit and pay a full, first-year teacher salary. TFA also lobbies state governments to give up millions in precious funding and convinced the Federal Department of Education to give up tens of millions to this organization. With over 250 million dollars in reserves, TFA still never offers to pay CM salaries to help struggling districts or waive “finder’s fees” for a vast majority of placements.

That’s right: cash-strapped schools have to pay extra to hire underqualified teachers. I wonder why…

But for the best commentary, we turn to The Onion:

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person.

I’m not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I’m an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won’t get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job….

For crying out loud, we’re not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.

Look, we all get it. Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you’ve grown as a person, but this is my actual education we’re talking about here. Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can’t afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone’s inspirational narrative.

And there endeth the lesson.

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5 Responses to What Teach For America Means For Classrooms

  1. MichaelWStory says:

    The eduform movement seems to have hit the bipartisan sweet spot- liberal blank slaters love the achievement-raising hyperbole and conservatives get to bash unions. Just like NCLB the whole thing will underperform and both sides will blame the other.
    I do disagree with one thing here though: “Upper-income parents would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children.”
    This is not the case- my old school (which appears on this sniping list of unfairly advantaged ‘elite’ schools http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8090117/Pupils-from-elite-schools-secure-one-in-ten-Oxford-places.html) used to regularly hire novices straight from college graduation and have them teach higher-level stuff the following Autumn, and we seemed to do ok.

  2. Amber says:

    Wisconsin is one of the states that no longer requires a teaching cert to be a teacher. Just yesterday at work, someone suggested I just go and teach (I’m a German Lang/Lit major on hiatus) right now, with just most of my bachelor’s, and no Ed degree or training. I was appalled, and said no. I have too much respect for the teaching profession to do that. If I teach, I want to be a certified teacher. People seem to think it takes nothing to teach anymore. For poor kids, at least.

  3. In my experience, summer school is where people buy the credit for classes in which they couldn’t be bothered to do the work. You’d be amazed what happens when a parent says “I’m not paying for summer school; if you fail you’ll have to repeat.”

    Somehow, all the homework and classwork suddenly gets done. Suddenly the kid shows up for class.

    As to the value of teacher training, I’d take it a lot more seriously if teachers had to complete some coursework in, gee, I don’t know, maybe their subject area they are supposed to be teaching? I see too many administrators saying “Anybody can teach Earth Science. I could teach Earth Science.”

    Oh really? So when a kid asks you why astronauts float around in the Space Station, what are you going to tell them, because I guarantee it will be wrong.

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