There was a very disconcerting report from Arika Herron in April 28th’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. In an article entitled “School district could partner with Teach for America to fill persistent vacancies”, Herron describes that the WSFCS system is looking at trying to fill persistently hard-to-staff job vacancies through alternative means.
There are many who look at Teach For America as fulfilling a need. Bright, young, energetic recent college graduates can devote two years (sometimes more) to educating students in hard-to-staff schools. According to Herron’s article, there are studies that show these teachers having effectiveness like their “counterparts” in the schools where they are placed.
However there are many, many critics of TFA. Sometimes referred to as “Temps For America”, TFA only requires candidates to complete a summer “crash” course in teaching before placed in schools. Critics look at this as bringing in ill-equipped teachers into schools who will only stay for a couple of years at most. In essence, it only puts a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.
Dana Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars spends some time exploring the rise of TFA and other “corps” driven ways to counter teacher shortages. While attempting to treat the subject of the reform movement in education with objectivity, Goldstein shares what are perceived as positives and negatives of Teach For America, but one quote really seems to garner the most attention from me. It is from Catherine Michna, a TFA alumna, who states,
“They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran-teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges” (p.196).
That’s not flattering coming from someone who was a part of the program.
Michelle Rhee, the former firebrand chancellor of the Washington D.C., made national headlines with her method of “house-cleaning” in the D.C. schools firing many principals and teachers immediately. She is a TFA alumna who is now championing the charter school movement in California. She expounds on TFA’s credentials quite often.
Diane Ravitch is well-known for voicing her opinions about TFA and opposing the ideology of reformers like Rhee. She even devotes a chapter in her bestselling book Reign of Error to dissecting Teach For America. She opens Chapter 14 with a claim made by proponents of TFA and then immediately follows it with a statement on the “Reality” of TFA.
CLAIM Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.
REALITY Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.
In a recent March 21st, 2016 post on her iconic blog entitled “Insider:Big Trouble Inside TFA”, Ravitch posted an anonymous letter from an employee at TFA chronicling layoffs and improprieties (https://dianeravitch.net/2016/03/21/insider-big-trouble-inside-tfa/). That post nearly coincided with news that San Francisco was terminating its relationship with TFA due to poor results.
Yet, I am not simply wanting to debate TFA’s merits. There are some great teachers who naturally possess qualities and a drive to succeed that allows them to be successful in teaching. But I do have a concern over the length that many TFA’s serve in classrooms because if teaching is a professional endeavor, then does that not denote some sort of commitment beyond two years?
I would argue that it takes almost three years to even get a handle on the teaching profession. Dealing with actually developing a craft, much less get a handle on the curriculum takes time. Most teachers student-teach longer than TFA “graduates” actually train, and that is not even talking about the course work and observations beforehand.
Two to three years may not afford one person an idea of what it is like to undergo a curriculum change, a change in leadership, a new evaluation system, or a new round of standardized tests. Gosh, it took me over two years to just develop an immune system that had come into enough contact with students to not get sick every week with some malady.
Maybe it is just that fact that some teachers spend more time preparing to become teachers than many TFA’s actually serve in schools that makes me wonder.
But I believe the real issue is why would these people need to be recruited? What would make the teaching profession so hard to staff in a state that once boasted one of the best teacher education systems in its colleges and universities? How could conditions become such that school systems like WSFCS even need to look at alternative paths for teachers to become “certified” to place in a school?
Kevin Bastian of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) wrote an interesting piece for EdNC.org on May 22nd entitled “Staffing North Carolina’s classrooms”. In it, he highlighted the decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs while a teacher shortage is continuing. It is very much worth the read, not that I agree with all that he says.
What I truly feel is the root of this need for teacher recruitment through programs like TFA is a simple lack of respect for the teaching profession that many state governments have made commonplace. With stagnating salaries, more students in more classrooms, VAM evaluations, and an emphasis on singular test scores, many teachers do not feel supported and respected. Potential teachers stop even considering becoming career teachers.
In my youth, the teacher was respected he/she was the teacher. In fact, my mother believed a teacher over me when it came to academic progress. Simply put, the teacher was respected because the occupation was valued.
Is that the case today?
Sorry, that is not a rhetorical question.