Hometown Glory

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 09 2014

MY FIRST POST and How TFA Criticism Sparked It

As a recently accepted 2014 Corps Member I have not had to look far to find TFA critics. When I was a prospective applicant trying to research the organization, I could not get past all of the articles, sob stories, and blogs to find the information that I wanted. Therefore, instead of ignoring them I decided to read every article and blog that reached my eyes. I was able to find out why John or Jane quit, why Mr. Doe doesn’t write recommendations for TFA, how unprepared every TFA teacher was (is what some articles would have you believe), how it steals jobs from veteran teachers, how it assists in high turnover, how it assists in privatization of education, and how it is the worst thing since Miley twerked at the VMAs. I then turned to my campus recruiter, TFA’s website, and the positive articles for the “kool-aid”…and I knew they’d have it. I saved the best for last: I talked to my old High School teachers, the principal, and corps members that I actually know from 2013, 2011, 2007, and 1998. From this I looked at my own values, passions, and goals to proceed with the application process.

Apparently there was a School Leaders of Color Conference/Workshop going on today through TFA or they were affiliated in some way. I happen to follow David Johns, the Executive Director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, on Twitter and  this happened (might have to click on the image read the entire tweets):

Johns was wrong to assume that this person was on the “sideline” because they actually aren’t, but the conversation that followed was a mouthful, but it summed up my stance with Teach for America (the stance that I’ve had to argue umpteen times since September).

The first tweet is the MAIN reason the cacophony of complaints/critiques that I faced/face did not faze me. Jane had a horrible time during her first year and institute didn’t prepare her. Okay…that’s sad  for Jane. These stories were not enough for me to dismiss TFA as a choice and DEFINITELY not enough to undermine the work that the organization is actually doing. There are things that I don’t like about TFA and there might be more that I will find, but you aren’t going to tell me about teacher unpreparedness…like there’s some standard and reliable way to measure how prepared someone is to do something as dynamic and complex as teaching. I know a teacher that had several degrees, certificates, specializations, and whatever other piece of paper or book you want to throw in there and they couldn’t effectively teach my 7th grade Math class. However, Ms. Adams could. She was our substitute for 3 months because Dr. ____ quit (hint: he wasn’t in TFA and contributed to our turnover rate) and we needed a teacher. She only held a Bachelor’s from GSU, but her novice classroom management allowed her to successfully teach us how to factor and solve equations. HOWEVER, she couldve easily gone next door and her same tactics could have flopped. Education is too dynamic to put constraints on who can teach whom or what. You aren’t going to label TFA as the culprit behind teacher turnover when the solution is somewhere deeper than TFA’s commitment requirement. I could count on fingers and toes how many M.Ed’s we had in my public schools that switched schools or that I see now working in Real Estate (personal story haha). I can also tell you about the TFA teachers I know that are  going into their 3rd, 7th, and 16th years of teaching. I get personally offended when someone insults their work by making faulty generalizations about the organization that allowed them to do the work.

I couldn’t agree with this one more. Another reason most of the criticisms waste my time is because they repeat the same faulty points and rhetoric. This is also the reason I’m leaving out the tweets from the opposing account, you can pretty much find what they were saying on any random TFA critique article or blog (that’s how overused they are). I even watched this argument unfold and it seems that people literally wait for some sort of compliment to be made about TFA and they pounce. There is a blog that I often read from a common TFA dissenter and some things are very valid, but other comments I see are usually overdone and annoying. To see that some people can almost make a name by always being there to undercut and fact check is not heroic in my eyes nor is anything being solved…but everyone has a right to their own opinion.

This is what touched me. People can spend so much time pointing out the “bad” that they overlook the good. What if every time a blog was posted about what TFA is doing wrong, an article suggesting what they SHOULD do was written? What if every time a veteran teacher flaunted their “experience” to make faulty and hackneyed generalizations, they encouraged a young or prospective teacher? I believe in speaking truth to power, voicing your opinion, and standing up for what you believe in…but where is the line? Why would anyone degrade a fellow teacher with claims of seniority? I can’t say anything bad about Dr._____ for leaving us in the middle of Fall 2004 semester. At least he tried. There are those that aren’t bold enough to enter this profession and his departure didn’t rob me of an education, it allowed for a young substitute to come in and finish the work that he was trying to do. I praise all of my teachers for doing what few Americans want to do, for accepting pay that others won’t, and for molding the next generation. Lastly, I chimed in on Twitter with one of my favorite quotes, because it can be applicable to most of these situations.

#teachthebabies “When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”

21 Responses

  1. Lisa

    Wow, I’m sharing this one…powerful words.

  2. cbanks

    Well said. I’m glad that you wholly researched this org and you scraped the entire continuum.

  3. Lee

    My daughter was a 2013 Corp Member and I have been in education for 35 years. I admire your enthusiasm but TFA is far from what it professes to be. Given the money and talent they have to work with they should produce stellar results – not create a baptism by fire environment. If they used that money and provided top notch training, mentoring, support and materials, books, supplies for their students they could be a model for the nation. What i saw in my daughter’s experience was a lot of talk, no support and basically a disorganized placement agency. I’m sure there are people who survive TFA due to support from the school they are placed in but TFA itself does very little in the scope of things and unfortunately they are contributing to the demise of public education by encouraging big business to dictate policy and the rise of charter schools.

  4. T

    “TFA itself does very little in the scope of things and unfortunately they are contributing to the demise of public education by encouraging big business to dictate policy and the rise of charter schools.”

    YES. THIS.

    Also, there is the underlying assumption that the poor scores in education are directly due to inadequate teachers, as opposed to the litany of other factors that need to be addressed.

    Do you want to know what you should be doing? You should be reading and speaking to career educators, researching educational history and policy, and spending months in the classroom before you make opinions about the system and the teachers who are part of it.

    I once held many of the misguided beliefs that you do. However, I believed these things from afar – I didn’t actively participate in the privatization of the education system and the demonization of teachers as you are. Hell yes, people are angry when naive new TFA members come along and claim that TFA does more good than bad, or that they are going to make a difference because they care. Call the points “overdone” all you want – they are true, and until people start to take notice, the few of us who do understand just how awful TFA is are going to shout it from the rooftops.

  5. akil71192

    Do you want to know what you should be doing? You should be reading and speaking to career educators, researching educational history and policy, and spending months in the classroom before you make opinions about the system and the teachers who are part of it.

    “There are things that I don’t like about TFA and there might be more that I will find…I saved the best for last: I talked to my old High School teachers, the principal, and corps members that I actually know from 2013, 2011, 2007, and 1998…I can also tell you about the TFA teachers I know that are going into their 3rd, 7th, and 16th years of teaching. I get personally offended when someone insults their work by making faulty generalizations about the organization that allowed them to do the work.”

    I wish had known the standard requirements I needed to share an OPINION before I posted, hopefully they’re written down somewhere. I spoke with 6 career educators that know me personally and work in the area that I’ll be working in and two that have been engaged in educational policy for the past 8 and 14 years. It makes me no expert, nor am I trying to be, but I am not here for the “wholesale dismissal” of TFA. If there is something specifically that you do not like, then shout that from the rooftops. If your daughter had a bad time in TFA, shout about that from the rooftop. I won’t get behind a huge “How awful TFA is” belief, because that umbrella is too wide. Shout about the state and federal problems in education from the rooftops first. I respect your points because you have more experience than I do, but I can’t get behind it until there is some direct correlation because as you said there are a “litany of other factors that need to be addressed.”

  6. Lee

    I admire your optimism – you sound a lot like my daughter did a year ago. Since then she not only had that optimism destroyed and has slowly recovered, she has many new TFA friends in therapy (something TFA suggests during their training) and they are all very bitter about how TFA let them down. In regards to your shout from the rooftops comment – I have spent the last year writing to my Congressmen and corporations who support TFA and my daughter is in the midst of writing about her experience in an effort to warn people like you so they don’t have to go through what she did. Some of her fellow Corp Members talk about writing a collective book as well. TFA has a great PR department so be careful when you listen to people with experience who encourage you to commit to TFA. They may not know what it is really like – just heard it is an honor to be chosen. Don’t get so sucked into the prestige of being chosen that you forget kids deserve a teacher with real training. I would also take a look in the mirror and ask yourself how much training you have in writing lesson plans, child psychology, classroom management, child development and children’s literature. I hope you have a lot as you will need it and TFA says they will provide it but they won’t.

  7. Les

    Whoa…I won’t say you’re naive, because unlike most you listened to both sides in this ever present debate and formed your own view. You just need the experience to back it up and like you said maybe you’ll find a better stance. You may feel differently a year from now or you could feel the same way. There’s no need to drink the kool-aid from either side. Continue to form your own thoughts. I’m with you.

  8. Gypsy

    My beef with TFA pertains to the support it “offers” to its Corps Members. If the MTLDs were around enough to offer said support, instead of attending one conference after another, things might be a little easier. Also, two years in the classroom does not make you an expert on how to teach others to teach. The support aspect of TFA needs a major overhaul.

  9. T

    “What if every time a blog was posted about what TFA is doing wrong, an article suggesting what they SHOULD do was written?”

    That is why I said what you SHOULD do. I was literally just following your lead.

  10. T

    I’m really sorry if I seemed like a troll. That wasn’t my intention. The title and article ticked me off, but I know you have good intentions. The problem is, good intentions don’t justify or make up for the problems that TFA + the privatization of education create. I had a truly awful day, and I could have taken a softer approach in my comments. It’s hard to be gentle, though, when you see the education system falling apart thanks to the efforts by TFA and the “reform movement” to demonize teachers and dismantle the public education system. Still, I didn’t need to be so harsh in my approach, and for that I truly am sorry.

  11. akil71192

    @T You’re fine! You don’t need to be gentle and soft about anything that you don’t want to be. As i expressed my thoughts, you expressed yours. This site was made for this type of dialogue and people will disagree and have opposing viewpoints. You didn’t call me out of my name or talk about my family so I am not bothered. That was far from harsh.

  12. Kellen

    A thoughtful post, sir. As a steadfast TFA critic in year 4 of public ed teaching, I appreciate your candor. Undoubtedly we disagree on many topics. I am writing, however, to encourage you to reconsider your blog’s motto if you will (not to save souls, but to mold).

    Education comes from the Latin “educare,” meaning to bring forth or draw out. While it may seem like a silly debate over semantics, I find the concept of “molding” students problematic. It suggests that the students are passive recipients of knowledge/wisdom imparted on them from a teacher. It frames students as objects that need molding as opposed to active participants/subjects in their own education. I think all educators need to be careful not to adopt this attitude about their students. The potential for genius, innovation, marvelous acts of humanity, are all inherently possible in every student/human being, if the right teacher can facilitate the unearthing of those skills in a cooperative fashion.

    I would merely consider another hook for the blog to avoid any problematic interpretations. There are plenty of critics out there looking to pounce on the TFA “mindset.” I would be careful to avoid anything that might sound like missionary zeal.

  13. Audri

    Welcome to the Metro Atlanta Corps! The road gets rough but the journey is worth it. – Metro Atlanta 2013.

  14. Gary Rubinstein

    I feel like I might be the “common TFA dissenter.” To get a sense of how simple minded and offensive the TFA approach is to ‘fixing’ the achievement gap, watch this panel discussion in which Michelle Rhee takes the TFA point of view and the other scholars school her. I’d love to hear your reaction.

    http://dubois.fas.harvard.edu/video/separate-unequal-closing-education-gap-moderated-charlayne-hunter-gault

  15. akil71192

    @Rubinstein will do! it might take a while seeing that it is 2 hours long

  16. jess

    Thanks for courageously sharing your opinion. TFA teachers stand alongside many other teachers who show up every day for kids in low-income communities. Getting to a day when all kids have the option of attending a great school is hard, and joining TFA is one way to dedicate yourself to that lofty cause.

  17. Aleta

    I’m finishing up my 2nd year as a corps member in Tulsa, Oklahoma and it has been an absolutely fantastic experience. Some bad things have happened, of course – my principal last year lied about me on evaluations and tried to get me fired, for example – but overall, the things I have learned and done have been worth it 100 times over. My relationships with my students have been positive, my classroom’s academic success has been slightly better than most of the veteran teachers at my school (last year we made an average of 1.7 years of reading growth). Maybe my kind of stories are harder to hear because people who are enjoying TFA don’t always have the time or the desire to go around talking about it and posting articles everywhere. We’re not whining, we’re fixing. We’re not pointing fingers, we’re working.

    I wish you the best of luck in your TFA experience. Everybody’s experience is different, and everybody’s experience is worth it.

  18. Lee

    I think anyone who cares about education is always glad to hear a success story. I have to say though that I cringe though when I hear you talk about your children’s test scores and compare them to veteran teachers. My guess is those veteran teachers offered you advice and support as you began to it seems disrespectful to tout your scores. Comparing classes is like comparing apples and oranges – in my schools veteran teachers typically took the more challenging students because we knew that new teachers would have enough challenges the way it was and anyone who has taught for awhile knows that your own scores will go up and down from year to year. I’m not trying to rain on your parade but I would tell you after 33 years of teaching I know I don’t have all the answers like you seem to. Test scores are a piece of information but there is so much more to teaching and the longer you teach (hopefully longer than 2 years like the majority of TFA Corp members )the more you will see that teaching students to be thinkers and problem solvers is complex and I have yet to see a teacher in their first or second year really master that. In your post you have put down TFA members who walked away – possibly for very legitimate reasons, your principal and the veteran teachers. The TFA people I have met who walked away weren’t winers – they recognized that students in poverty deserve fully trained teachers on the first day of school.

  19. Aleta

    Lee, I’m not touting my scores, simply stating what as of now is accurate information that could give someone some perspective on my situation. You are making a lot of assumptions about my experience with no background knowledge aside from what I myself stated. “The TFA people I have met who walked away weren’t winers [sic] – they recognized that students in poverty deserve fully trained teachers on the first day of school.” Sadly, my district (Tulsa Public Schools) started the school year 37 teachers short, and now in February, we’re still 37 teachers short. TFA isn’t taking anyone’s spot here, on the contrary they are filling vacancies that otherwise wouldn’t be filled.

  20. Lee

    Aleta,
    I don’t know why you have 37 positions open in February but it seems that in itself is a problem with our system given many qualified education graduates who don’t have jobs. Seems like there needs to be a clearing house where colleges could distribute that information to graduates. Your comment about how TFA people like you aren’t whining – you are fixing along with you even mentioning your scores gives a different message than you are now sending. I don’t pretend to know all about you but I can tell you that in my 33 years of teaching the first year teachers I’ve worked with are humble, thankful for the help they get from veteran teachers and would know better than to write anything about their test scores on a blog. I suggest you read Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error to learn about the impact of testing on children and her thoughts about TFa. If you read her blog you will also see that experienced teachers are very offended to think that anyone without a background in child development, classroom management, teaching methods, etc would think they could truly teach. Last night there was a twitter event sponsored by college students “resisting” TFA. One of their reasons is exactly that – they know they can’t learn to be a teacher with just five weeks training. Many of their members are former TFA Corp Members. I’m sure you are sincere, may be wonderful with kids and have the potential to be a wonderful teacher. However, every truly wonderful teacher I have ever met knows that it takes years to be successful and focus more on what they need to learn rather than telling people about their students test scores.

  21. Mia

    If TFA’s goal is to put highly qualified teachers in front of every child, why not help support current and new teachers who are struggling that are already in front of children? In recruiting a new batch of teachers every year and only supporting them seems short sighted at best and arrogant at worst. Does TFA believe high quality teachers are born that way? That they can’t be taught to refine their skill? If that’s the case, they have no business being in the business of education where we believe ALL PEOPLE can learn, not the select few with “intrinsic” qualities.

Post a comment

About this Blog

Not here to save souls…but to do my part in molding them.

Region
Metro Atlanta
Subject
Science

Subscribe to this blog (feed)


Archives

Categories