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Before you read on, I have to warn you. This piece is not a critique of Teach for America. It's merely a question.

The two-year program that places recent college graduates into teaching positions at urban schools was initially started to fix a teaching shortage.

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization whose vision is that "one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education" (Kopp 2001, 174). Its goal is to provide a corps of excellent teachers for inner-city and rural areas where chronic teacher shortages occur.
It's hard to have any objections to a program like this one. Reasonable class sizes are important to the quality of instruction, which is supported by research.  In times of a teaching shortage, the only other option would be to allow class sizes to swell.

I truly do not understand why Teach for America sends recruits to cities like Chicago where 2,000 tenured teachers have been laid off since 2010. It seems that Chicago Public Schools could just fill the gaps with those teachers who have been fired by no fault of their own. Included in these lay offs are highly qualified veteran educators with multiple advanced degrees and many with National Board Certification.

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

I posed this question on Twitter, where I received responses both from educators who were certified through a University after 12-14 weeks of student teaching and those who received alternative certification through programs like TFA.

It troubles me to think that that the teaching profession, which has traditionally been a gateway to the middle class for poor and working class children, is being scrapped to give temporary jobs to college graduates from elite institutions.

I am the first in my family to go to college. I made it through loans and working 2-3 part time jobs at a time. I graduated into a comfortable middle class life. I would hate to see this opportunity taken away from others.

Many responses were that that TFA offers "choices" for people looking at programs. However, TFA limits choices for administrators.  As districts report massive cutbacks, TFA is an attractive option. These are teachers who tend to leave after two years and never make it to the third year on the salary scale, and never attain the tenure that allows them the voice they need to advocate for their students.

Most of the pro-TFA tweets I received gave very esoteric answers for the need for TFA. Katie Bordner, a teacher who came up through the New Teacher Project gave me a concrete answer.

Screen Shot 2012-08-01 at 4.35.01 PM
I could definitely see a need for something like that. However, I still don't understand why that kind of support should take the place of pre-service education.

I suggested to Ms. Bordner that "traditional" programs can be fused with the new teacher support for a program that puts fully trained, certified teachers in front of students and nurtures them throughout the first two crucial years.

When I first started my career, I had to find my own mentors. I documented the process in this piece.

Chicago Public Schools had a program called "Golden Teachers," but the program was disorganized. My assigned mentor changed periodically as I tried to navigate the classroom. Eventually, I was assigned to a veteran teacher, Ms. Clay, whose advice was absolutely invaluable.  However, it wasn't until months into the school year that I first had a meeting with her.

Where CPS failed, an organization could step in and connect new teachers with experienced vets. I should have been working with Ms. Clay on day one.

To align to its own mission statement, TFA could give support to new teachers who have already been trained and certified after a semester of student teaching.

TFA mentors tend to be TFA graduates themselves with little experience. My mentor lived in the community where we worked and had decades of experience.  There are more teachers like her and TFA could connect them with struggling first and second year teachers.

I would hate to think that TFA existed not to improve schools, but to create an unstable workforce of compliant, cheap labor.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    "Your conspiracy theories won't work without evidence." -Nasir Jones

    by Tristero 312 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 10:35:44 AM PDT

  •  From a retired inner city HS teacher, I agree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, luckylizard

    that this program should be questioned given the layoffs.

    How did Supreme Court decision ACA help the 23 million still uncovered? Ask the 18,000 Doctors of PNHP -- they're not waiting, FORWARD now to pass H.R. 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act .

    by divineorder on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 10:56:21 AM PDT

  •  It's right to question the purpose, because almost (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, icemilkcoffee, luckylizard

    NONE of the teachers teach past their two year commitment.  They all use TFA as a resume padder or they go into administration.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 11:36:19 AM PDT

    •  Actually, they say some make it three years (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and almost none make it five - the point where teachers start to find their footing and become really good at what they do.

      Take the "Can't(or)" out of Congress. Support E. Wayne Powell in Va-07.

      by anastasia p on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:47:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  False (0+ / 0-)

      As someone who has been through the program, married to someone in the program, and still teaching in our 7th year in a school with other TFAers with the same or more tenure, your comments ring pretty false to me.  

  •  Cleveland State University has a program (0+ / 0-)

    that specifically trains teachers for urban communities. You can get a masters degree in urban education. I remember hearing that these newly minted, well-trained young people who want to commit their lives to teaching are virtually unable to get jobs in the area and must leave. Meanwhile, I hear about TFA temps being sought in urban areas. So that tweet is way off mark.

    Take the "Can't(or)" out of Congress. Support E. Wayne Powell in Va-07.

    by anastasia p on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:46:37 PM PDT

  •  I think we ought to have "Nurse for America" or (0+ / 0-)

    Lawyer for America."  Since it's obvious that professional expertise isn't necessary, why pay for trained nurses or lawyers?  Get people with a few weeks' training and set 'em loose.  < this is snark-ish, but not by much.. >

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 04:20:33 PM PDT

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