I find myself asking that question right now as the result of reading an op ed in today's USA Today. It has the title Column: 3 ways to improve the USA's teacher, and it is jointly written by Dennis Van Roekel, national President of the National Education Union, the teachers union for which I am a building representative, and Wendy Kopp, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Teach for America (TFA -USA Today incorrectly identifies that organization as "Teach for All").
Let me offer just one part of the piece which I find unbelievable:
One in three K-12 students will be assigned a teacher who is in the first three years of his or her career. As a new generation embarks on a career in teaching, we must commit to giving them the best preparation possible.And yet, those who TFA recruits only commit to 2 years of teaching, which contributes to the turnover of the teaching corps in schools in which they work. As bad as that may be, I fail to see how a commitment to giving new teachers "the best preparation possible" is in accord with the practice of TFA taking its applicants - who may be outstanding students from elite colleges and universities - giving them only 5 weeks of training, with no meaningful practice teaching, then placing them in schools with high needs children, sometimes in positions of responsibility for which they lack the appropriate background (Special Education), where their primary support mechanism may be former TFA teachers who themselves had only 2 years of experience in the classroom. Remember TFA is not dedicated to preparing people to be career teachers, but according to their own website and it's mission statement,
is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent educationby
Enlisting Committed IndividualsI do not deny that there are many in TFA who are genuinely committed to the well-being of the students taught by TFA members. I know of those who come in through TFA who make a career in the classroom.
We recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.
But it costs more for a TFA beginner than a regular beginner, the constant turnover of teaching staff does not help a school create an ongoing culture, and to insist that people with only 5 weeks of training are "highly qualified" - as TFA got placed into the CR that funded the government at the end of last year to overcome a decision by the 9th Circuit that TFAers and those from similar alternative programs were NOT highly qualified under the law - is to betray the best interest of the students teachers are supposed to serve.
I admire those willing to try teaching in inner city schools. I cannot support what Teach for America is doing until those people get appropriate preparation. It is unfair to the students they teach, no matter how well intentioned they are. It is also unfair to those participating through Teach for America, unless their only interest is another entry on the CV and preferential admission to law, graduate or business school.
I cannot support this action by Dennis Van Roekel. I suspect that I am far from alone among the more than 3 million members, many of whom are likely to see this as a betrayal.
I asked what you should do. You now have my answer to that question - I wrote this post.