I am, I’m asking you to stay.
If you have read enough of my blog, you must know by now that I am an advocate for children. What you may not know, however, is that right out of college I taught Elementary Special Education for two years in South Los Angeles. I was a member of Teach For America. While I didn’t continue to teach after my two years, I assure you that I was required to pass the same teaching exams and pursue the same teaching certification as those who were not affiliated with Teach For America. In fact, I took it a step further than most and pursued a Master’s Degree in Special Education.
Before arriving at my school, my students had not had a permanent teacher in years. After two years looping with many of the same students, I was able to exit many of them out of Special Education and back into the General Education classroom. Most of my students achieved several grade levels of education in just one year. I don’t give you this information to brag. I was not an exceptional teacher by Teach For America standards – I achieved what was expected for the organization. I wasn’t only able to do this because I was highly educated. I achieved results because I was passionate about children, and I was supported by one of the best organizations this country has to offer.
Just past week, as I came across this blog post on my Facebook newsfeed. The post is titled, “I am, I’m asking you to quit.” This blog is written by a woman named Molly who describes herself as a “white female who was educated at a prestigious university.” She also mentions that she is “riddled with privilege.” For this reason, she believes that people like herself don’t belong in classrooms teaching children of color who don’t come from the same privilege. She then goes on a rant about how terrible she believes Teach For America is for our nation’s children. This week, I will explain in detail why I respectfully disagree with her.
1) Children Need Good Teachers – Race Be Damned: One of the arguments in the above linked blog article is that someone who is not a minority or someone who hasn’t experienced being “under privileged” has no business teaching students of color. Does that mean that if you are not white you shouldn’t be teaching white children? Should children only be subjected to teachers who have shared their exact experience? This sound like an argument right out of the Jim Crow south. Children need good teachers. Good teachers come in all different colors. If these schools housing TFA teachers waited around until they had qualified teachers, who all happened to be the same race and socio-economic status as the students, they would have a school in serious need of teachers.
2) Training: This blogger throws out a popular misconception about TFA (which leads me to believe she has no actual experience with the organization). She argues that TFA throws inexperienced young adults in the classroom with only a few weeks of training. First of all, before a TFA teacher even steps foot in a classroom, he/she must pass the statewide exam to ensure that they have enough knowledge to step foot in a classroom. Next, TFA teachers go through a rigorous month long training before stepping foot into their classroom. During this training, the teachers are mentored by senior teachers who assist in lesson planning, co-teach, and help prepare these teachers to take on their own classrooms. Finally, as do ALL teachers, TFA teachers are required to pursue their certifications. In the school where I taught, there were several non-TFA teachers who were pursuing their teaching certification while teaching. TFA teachers often times go above and beyond pursuing just their teaching certification. In fact, many of us got our Masters Degrees in Education in addition to our teaching certificate. Along with going through all the same things non-TFA teachers do, TFA also provides its teachers with ongoing support throughout their years teaching. To say that TFA teachers are not prepared to do their jobs is simply not true.
3) Two Year Commitment: It is true that TFA has a two year commitment requirement. This might seem like no time for those who do not understand what is actually happening in the most under performing schools in our country. At the end of my first year, I became one of the most senior teachers at the school where I was teaching – and this was NOT because there were too many TFA teachers at the school. This was because I taught in South Los Angeles in a school that had an extremely high burn out rate. That said, most of the people I came into TFA with are still teaching to this day. Some of them are principals at schools, and all of them showed tremendous achievement in the classrooms where they taught. Those of us who are not teaching, remain advocates for education equality. I remain in contact with several of my students who I am now trying to help get into college. My commitment to them didn’t end after my two years with the corp was finished.
4) Resume Pad: It is no secret that Teach For America looks good on a resume. It is also no secret that TFA has become so highly competitive that many people want to be able to say they have gotten into the program. That said, there is so much more to be gained than what is evident on a resume. If someone enters the organization just looking for a notch on their resume, they will soon be weeded out when they realize how much the organization expects out of its corp members. There are experiences I have gained from my two years teaching that I will never be able to capture in words let alone on my resume. I learned a lot from my students in the years I spent in the classroom, and I truly believe they learned a lot from me. I highly doubt that my students would mind that I proudly put Teach For America on my resume.
5) TFA Teachers Push Out Certified Teachers: The schools where TFA sends its corp members are not the schools where teachers are standing in line to teach. Students often come to you at least three grade levels behind where they should be, and many of them come to school hoping to receive the only meals they will get the entire day. The certified teachers at the school, while there are many good ones, are a mixed bag. One of the first grade teachers where I taught, who was certified and had been teaching for over ten years, would come in every day and read the newspaper while her students copied the alphabet from the board. Every one of her students went on to the second grade without a shred of information from first grade. She should have been pushed out of that school.
I remember my last day teaching like it was yesterday. One of my students, who I fondly called President Hernandez, came to sit beside me on the playground. I had been his teacher for two years. I taught him how to read, and the next year he would be headed to a General Education classroom due to the significant gains he had made while in my class. He looked up at me and asked, “Ms. McLeod…who is coming next?” I wasn’t sure who would be coming next for President Hernandez, but I sincerely hoped it would be a Teach For America teacher.
First, you make the argument that the students had a stream of teachers and then you stay for two years thus continuing that stream of teachers? The money the school district and the state pays to TFA could have gone to finding and educator who was going to stay in the classroom. In the end your two year commitment nullifies your argument.
Second, TFA has become part of the corporate reform movement. Thus, TFA is an active underminer in the fight for education reform. That was the crux of her argument. TFA is not a solution, its an actual problem in public education. Good intentions of the corp members do not negate what the national body of TFA has been pushing.
And yes,in many places TFA pushes out certified teachers. TFA Alums have pushed for the program to enter Seattle and TFAs tendency to train and place Alums in position of power has paid off. Seattle had to let go of 30 teachers and yet the school district has just made a deal with TFA to place that many in the system. So yes, it does place unqualified non-teachers in classrooms and gets paid to do so.
Justin, did you not read the part where I noted that MOST of the people I was in TFA with stayed beyond the two years? There is nothing in the TFA program that says you should stop teaching after two years. TFA provides corps members intensive support for the first two years and, in fact, encourages them to stay in the teaching field – which many actually do.
I don’t see how you can come to your second point. How would pushing significant gains in the classroom undermine education reform?
And to your final point, how about you get some stats on the percentage of certified teachers in each state (particularly in under performing schools) who are failing their students. Should they remain in place even though they are failing? Teach for America doesn’t produce non-qualified teachers at all. We were well trained and supported. Most of the non-TFA teachers where I was teaching were also pursuing their certification while they were teaching.
I appreciate your attempts to debase my arguments Justin, but you sound like someone who has sour grapes about the program without actual stats.
Here is a study detailing the “data” that TFA Alums are effective. For brevities sake, here is the conclusion.
Of the studies listed on TFA’s research page, two are peer-reviewed. As we showed
above, both are irrelevant to TFA’s claim “that Teach For America corps members make as much
of an impact on student achievement as veteran teachers.” Given that they have no connection to
TFA’s claim, these two studies are arguably included to pad TFA’s resume. What is troublesome
here is that we live in a world where foundations and organizations have millions of dollars to
spend lobbying (TFA has spent well over 2 million on lobbyists over the past decade) and at the
same time can bypass peer-review in order to make a case for whatever they are selling.28 If
powerful interests have enough money, science no longer matters. For more on this ask the
scientists trying to address global warming.
What can be done to slow the spread of TFA is perhaps more troubling than the flawed
“science” it uses to sell its wares. Despite cutbacks in funding for schools across the nation,
states continue to earmark funds for Teach for America. We’d like to believe we live in a world
where rational actors make decisions based on rigorous science, but experience has led us to
believe this is a rare case when it comes to educational policy at federal and state levels. Doing
something about the influence of money in shaping policy is beyond the scope of this paper.
Not only a refutation of TFAs claim but also a comment on how money that typically would be sent to public school systems are sent to TFA in order to provide teachers who mean well but aren’t qualified. If you would like further evidence look for further than the fact that laws and regulations have to be changed for TFA to even enter a state and place people in the classrooms.
TFA also is a huge proponent of the charter school system.
Heres problems about charter schools in one state. Heres my favorite facts.
The state spends about 7200 dollars a pupil in charter schools
Once you remove charter schools and vouchers, the state spends about 3500 dollars per pupil in public schools
Students in Columbus Schools lose almost 25 percent of their state revenue to charter school students
The average student in a charter schools loses a full marking period in math and about a third of a marking period in reading compared with their public school
So by supporting TFA and charter schools, yes public education is being undermined. You and people you know may have good intentions but that doesn’t mean they are well placed or even having a desirable effect.
Justin/Molly, TFA is not funded by states. TFA as an organization does a lot of independent fund raising so to say that it is fully funded by state money is just not true. You also attack charter schools. While I don’t disagree that there are some problematic charter schools, I think the stats will show that many charter schools are seeing great success. There is a reason that many parents will enter the lottery in hopes that their child will have an opportunity to get into one.
All of your studies ignore the current state of what is happening with tenured certified teachers. Have you heard about how in NY state when a teacher is accused of sexual abuse or another hideous crime, they end up in a holding pen and still receive their teaching salary? Are you going to blame TFA for this too?
TFA and charter schools alike are trying to address the problem that children in low income communities are being left behind. You are attacking an organization that is trying to be a part of the change instead of offering real solutions. So what? Get rid of TFA and then what? Do you think all of a sudden that will give poorly achieving certified teachers the incentive to start teaching these kids? I think not Justin/Molly.
Well evaluated teachers with experienced are threatened to being pushed out so untrained and inexperienced TFA members kepts. And who is doing it? A TFA Alum.
As they continue to shutter down neighborhood schools in order to prop up charters.
If non of that gives you pause about the organization then you’re not using noggin right.
Justin/Molly, I implore you to start looking at what these so-called experienced teachers are doing. Unless you have been on the ground in some of these schools and seen what is happening, I don’t think you really can say you know what you are talking about. I was on the ground in the trenches. I was looking at the teachers who were certified and failing their students who we couldn’t push out if we tried (and the school admins were trying). These teachers would get traded around from school to school. TFA fights to end tenure because tenure is what messes with education. These teachers get in there, fail the children, and cannot be fired.
Christ, you’d think as an African American woman you’d at least look at the de facto segregation that charters are causing. Like, does that not bother you?
But what ever. If the only argument you have is “some teachers MAY be bad” and can bring up no valid or peer reviewed evidence that TFA does anything it says it does. Are there bad teachers? of course, all professions clearly have a bell curve. Should we punish all teachers because of it?
And if you did understand anything about the educational climate in the United States you might have a firm grasp of education history, the history of the reform movement and the 30 year push to privatize education. I’m sure you’re arguing from a well research position. Or maybe you’d like to look at the effects of multi-generational poverty on the education system.
Oh or my favorite, maybe you’d like to look at studies that detail how the vast majority of a students academic success comes from the life outside of school.
I mean surely you’ve taken into account what the end of tenure means, which isn’t a protected job but simply the right to due process and defend yourself from accusations. It also protects teachers from the whims of political climate, such as firing a teacher because they taught evolution or sex education. You’re attacking something without even understanding why it exists.
Theres a teacher right now in NY who only has a job because of tenure after he brought up financial wrong doing of his principal. She then mounted a campaign to have him fired even though for 5 previous years he was rated as excellent and had no problems at all.
You could simply look at the stats comparing test scores of states that have tenure and strong teaching unions to states that do not since you are overly found of that particular statistic.
You may say you want educational equity but to me its more than a buzz word, which is why I believe in the fight for public schools and teachers. Granted that may be self serving but I’m a so called experienced teacher that works with at-risk students in an alternative setting. BD, Sped, gang members and runaways, I got them all. You spent 2 years in the trenches and left. I’ve made it home.
Do you know who the highest paid “Educator” in the US is? Ron Packard, a friend of TFA, head of K-12 inc. He has made 19 million dollars in the last 4 years and only 28 percent of his schools meet state standards. This is the kind of corporate money grab you are supporting by supporting TFA. Go down the rabbit hole if you want.
Ok Justin, I now see where you are coming from. First, my hat goes off to you for “staying in the trenches”. We might have to agree to disagree about charter schools. Are there bad ones? Sure. But I have seen first hand so charter schools that are doing great things. I know many KIPP teachers and a good friend of mine is a KIPP principal and is doing amazing things in her community.
I am not going to argue that there are no good teachers. There are tons of non-TFA teachers who are doing great work. That said, I think it’s ignorant to just blame TFA for all the ills of teaching. I would argue that the non-TFA teachers who are hard to get rid of and constantly failing their students are the most detrimental to this system.
I have no idea where you work, but for my two years (that you seem to dismiss very easily), it was clear to me that in Los Angeles we were needed. Would it have been better for my students had I stayed? Well for my student they would have moved on anyway. I busted my butt for two years and did everything I could for my students. I truly believe that I was better for them then the teachers who lasted only a few weeks. I gave them a constant for two years.
We would both likely agree that our system would be best if there was no longer a need for programs like TFA. The reality is that “in the trenches” (at least in the places TFA serves) there just aren’t teachers like yourself who stay. If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You are quick to poo poo TFA, but what would you suggest? Would you suggest TFA just stopping the conversation and leaving those schools (like the one where I taught) completely empty? Should the teachers who are left there have more students just so that they can avoid hiring TFA teachers? Oh how about this – let’s invite back all the child predators who are hanging out in that NY school board building after being kicked out the classroom. Would they better?