“This problem is so pervasive and so ingrained that we’ve stopped seeing it as a problem at all, and instead adjusted our values and beliefs to accommodate it. If we’re ever going to truly make progress, we have to be honest with ourselves and name injustice for what it is.” (Haycock, 2004, p. 36)
TFA seems to be acceptable public and corporate policy. Media, corporations, State, and national policy makers present TFA, in its present format, not only as a viable program for teaching poor kids, but one to emulate and use as a model for all teacher training programs (Carver, 2007; Gates, 2011, Gerdes, 2007; Will, 2011; Wolfman, 2003). But unexamined assumptions embedded in mission statements, advertisements, slogans, color schemes and rhetoric are problematic (Affeldt 2010, Veltri, 2010).
TFA’s “mission” in poor urban and rural schools embraces a business model with a brand, image, and culture designed to attract candidates for a finite commitment. Some view TFA’s service agenda as one that lets others: policy makers, school districts, Corporate sponsors, politicians, TFA’s organization, and even university administration, “off the hook, both financially and socially, because of reasoning based on:
- “‘The Tinkerbelle Tenet of Teaching, where teachers and others believe that something will occur solely on the strength of that belief” (Hamilton, 1993, p. 206), and
- the “TINA Thesis: There Is No Alternative” (Saltman & Gabbard, 2003, p. 6). But there are alternatives. They are costly, not popular with those supporting TFA, and no aligned to the narrative and spin that’s out there in the public domain. (Veltri, Education and Urban Society, July 2008).
Programmatic Changes (Colleges of Education)
- Set up a program that supports TFA novices full-time during their 1st year of teaching, and do not overload TFA with course work during the first semester.
- Insist that TFA’s organization change its training model by extending the training by 3 weeks (starting during the Spring Semester) and accompanying that training with in-district summer school teaching, supervised by veteran educators and not TFA’s first year corps who “know nothing and are offered positions at TFA’s Institute because it pays well. “
- Further develop the site-based clinical practice of TFA novices under the guidance of district-trained and university teacher educators during spring semester of senior year. TFA accepts their recruits in November, so start the program earlier.
- Change your instructional style with TFA and group their learning according to their age/developmental group. One size does not fit all TFA, and many resent the impersonal nature and constant “ALL-CORPS” type of learning and institutional programming that occurs.
- Do not be tempted by huge philanthropic donations that seek to ‘gather data” and study how TFA’s model is working. It’s not working, period.
- Understand that TFAers:
- possess a strong success framework and expect to excel. They do not anticipate the level of difficulty they will encounter.
- appreciate directness, a plan designed for their students and their realities, want more “do this tomorrow,” and less theory in the beginning, and value the expertise and experience of instructors who are practitioners and experienced with the socio-economic, grade levels, and subject realities that TFA’s are dealing with.
- need people who are keenly knowledgeable of what needs to happen in their classroom immediately. Do not expect TFA’s Program Directors to fill this need. Do not expect some of the new TFA-designed university programs to address this need, either. Find people who know and can work with TFA full time teachers –in-training.
- Find staff who can be in charge of the TFA program, value them, appreciate them, pay them, and have them develop their liaisons for schools, and have them insist upon ‘monthly’ TFA updates on corps progress.
- Do not succumb to TFA leadership telling you how to run things, because their way of leading is corporate. Corporations do not appreciate child or adolescent development. They understand profit and loss and doing ‘service’ for a short term.
- We are losing kids and good teachers. We are losing TFAers who become jaded by their experiences and do not remain in the professional long enough to ever really ‘get to be good’ … and that is costing all of us.
Programmatic Changes (Districts)
- Placement: Do not assign TFA to teach Special Education classes; TFA are not skilled in general education, let alone, SPED law and issues of remediation.
- Do not request or require TFA’s to write grants, tutor kids after school, coach, sponsor clubs or assume ‘extra’ duties during their first year. They are trying to figure out teaching and that alone consumes their time.
- Set up a dedicated mentor program for veteran teachers who want to mentor TFAmericans and has this duty as their full time job. This worked very well in The School District of Philadelphia with a semi-retired teacher with years of experience who offered incentives (supplies and book store gift certificates) for novices who attend his weekly professional development/coaching sessions. 30 minutes can really save someone’s day when there is a venting opportunity with an action plan attached. Assign one person to each group of TFAers and new teachers (can’t discriminate) and meet with them regularly to offer feedback on classroom practice and what’s required by term.
- Reduce or eliminate the $5,000 (finder’s fee) that districts pay to TFA to train and hire cadres of effective veteran teachers to “coach the corps” on-site. Use the veterans in your own system of get them from university programs. These educators have not lost their passion for teaching and were never dull, so they can model effective teaching practices in TFA classrooms, build trust, and support TFAers off hours (when they are planning or have an issue that is not addressed or solved by TFA’s Program Directors, who have minimum classroom experience, and often provide unreasonable suggestions to corps members.
Policy Changes (National Level)
- Eliminate the AmeriCorps stipend paid to TFA teachers entirely for first two years as TFA teachers. Instead, pay it upon TFAers’ extension of their teaching contract into year 3 and 4 when they have earned their credential and are not being awarded grant funds, to learn how to teach poor children.
- Offer the $10,000 educational vouchers to non-TFAers who attend credentialing programs specializing in urban education and agree to a 5-year commitment to teach in urban high-needs districts.
- Sign a Petition today (DC) and in your local communities addressed to your Congressional representative to a) repeal the “highly qualified” designation of TFA novices inserted into the 110th Congressional provision Section 163 that overturned the 9th Circuit’s decision that noted that TFA and other “intern” teachers are not highly qualified and should not be disproportionately assigned to schools with high concentrations of poor children of color and b) that in the reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Schools Act) TFA are not “highly qualified” nor prepared to teach students in Special Education.
As noted by John Affeldt (lawyer for the plaintiff):
“Teach for America, which has vociferously opposed the lawsuit and has substantial clout on Capitol Hill, is the most likely suspect behind the covert attempt to overturn the court’s decision through stealth legislation. The problem is that actual parents and students in schools where these alternative route trainees teach don’t want their classrooms to be the exclusive training grounds. They also want the disclosures that NCLB promises as to which teachers have been fully prepared to teach their children and which haven’t,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-affeldt/congress-lowering-standar_b_799523.html
So many people in high places are getting this “education reform” issue… wrong! What do hedge fund managers, philanthropists and political leader know about education? In no other profession (military, medicine, law, auto mechanics, or cosmetology) could people who are untrained and inexperienced practice on the public and not be in violation of the law and state licensing requirements. The founder of TFA, Wendy Kopp was NEVER a teacher; the president of TFA, Matthew Kramer, was NEVER a teacher. Our secretary of education, Arne Duncan was NEVER a teacher. The rest of the people setting policy, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, The Walton family, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg were NEVER teachers! Why do people think non-educators can be education leaders?
- The spin on a national scale is directed toward the voting public who may not have any problem with their local public schools their children attend or their own kids’ teachers, but might be alerted to the issue of how someone has to “Save America’s Tough Schools” which was the cover headline of a Readers’ Digest issue in 2003 touting a TFA teacher in her first year teaching kindergarten students in the Bronx, NY.
- TFA corps members are not equipped to handle the fall out from poverty and public policies that marginalize children and adolescents in many communities. They need to learn the culture of the community, the culture of schools and the art of reaching and teaching these particular students, so different from them . But before this can be done they (and their students) need to be safe and assured of personal and professional “homeostasis”.
But will TFA ally with the traditional programs to meet our recommendations? Will TFA join with teaching professionals as well as other professional organizations and institutions to improve the quality of teaching and teacher training or will it continue to “believe its own hype”? Right now I am not optimistic.
TFA (the organization) has become more and more like an Empress with no clothes. As it gains more and more corporate and political supporters and funding, it is less inclined to do the kind of self-evaluation good teachers do in good schools.
Who among the TFA courtiers will tell the Empress the truth? Who will be so bold as to say, “Wendy, you did a good thing getting so many new and able people to be at least interested in teaching. But now, what are you going to do to make keep them there and improve? How will you do each of the following?
- Decrease the number of resume builders who join the corps and leave after two years for the Ivy League grad school or Goldman Sachs.
- Decrease the number of TFAmericans who idealistically want to do 2 years of Peace Corps but are afraid to go to Africa.
- Decrease the number of “teacherpreneurs” who enter the corps to do their two years and go on to the new for-profit educational world.
- Decrease the number of TFAmericans who see the administrative or business end of TFA as their life’s work, not teaching.
- Decrease the number of hardworking and sincere TFAmericans who drop out because they find themselves unprepared to start and undersupervised for their two-year stint.
- Increase the number of well prepared, well supervised professional teachers for whom this career is an avocation as well as a vocation, who seek advice, constructive criticism, peer review, and cooperation from experienced people outside the of the “Chosen.”
While the Empress Kopp parades around in her new clothes, her serfs in the field are being sacrificed. Will she listen to reason? Will she ally with others in education for the benefit of all?
Who will give her the mirror? WE MUST! WE MUST FORCE TFA TO CHANGE. IT CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT OUR DEMAND FOR TFA RECRUITS.
Our recommendation is to return education to the professionally, scientifically trained, experienced educators who have studied and practiced and mastered the art and science of teaching.
Districts must be sure that new teachers prior to being hired:
- Do as much pre-student teaching field experience as possible where they work with children in school and afternoon settings
- Observe master teachers in several classrooms
- Have a minimum of a full semester of student teaching under the supervision of a highly qualified master cooperating teacher
- Receive additional mentoring from outside mentors (i.e. former teachers working as field specialist/mentors through Universities)
Once hired they:
- Are properly supervised and observed by Principals, Assistant Principals and department chairs. This includes 3 observations per semester with pre observation and post observation meetings.
- Receive peer mentoring by in school master teachers
- Are provided adequate planning time and are therefor excused from committee busy work
- Use Critical Friends and or Lesson study peer support
- Continue PD and continuing education through Universioties and District Teacher Centers
TFA was awarded a 50 million dollar grant from DOE this year, and 18.2 million by another billionaire in Arizona to show how TFA’s training should be a national model. If one copies from a model is that art? Reproduction? Or is It more like paint by numbers?
Barbara Tuchman, in her book, The March of Folly, from Troy to Vietnam, defines ”Folly” as the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest where people pursue the same failed policies and expect different results!
We have slipped to the 27th rung on the international standardized tests because people who know nothing about education make decisions as to what and how students are taught. Successful schools, both abroad and at home, are run by trained professional, unionized educators-not billionaires and politicians! All teachers should be able to pass subject matter, pedagogical knowledge, and MOST IMPORTANTLY a demonstration lesson BEFORE entering any classroom. Good education has to be provided in the classroom, the home, the community and the culture. The least we can do is provide the best-trained teachers possible to make our urban public schools the pride of the nation once again.
There are NO SHORTCUTS to quality education. That is why TFA NEEDS TO: LISTEN, GET FIXED… OR GO.