Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Onion Takes on Teach For America

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don't think it's too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn't desperately trying to prove to herself that she's a good person.
More signs the tide is turning in this hilarious send up of TFA

Point/Counterpoint

July 17, 2012 | ISSUE 48•29

Point

My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids

By Megan Richmond, Volunteer Teacher
When I graduated college last year, I was certain I wanted to make a real difference in the world. After 17 years of education, I felt an obligation to share my knowledge and skills with those who needed it most.
After this past year, I believe I did just that. Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil.
Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward.
Those first few months were the most difficult of my life. Still, I pushed through each day knowing that these kids really needed the knowledge and life experience I had to offer them. In the end, it changed all of our lives.
In some ways, it's almost like I was more than just a teacher to those children. I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.
Ultimately, I suppose I can never know exactly how much of an impact I had on my students, but I do know that for me it was a fundamentally eye-opening experience and one I will never forget.

Counterpoint

Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?

By Brandon Mendez, James Miller Elementary School Student
You've got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don't have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn't know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.
Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don't think it's too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn't desperately trying to prove to herself that she's a good person.
I'm not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I'm an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won't get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.
How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn't that be a novel concept!
I fully understand that our nation is currently facing an extreme shortage of teachers and that we all have to make do with what we can get. But does that really mean we have to be stuck with some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr?
For crying out loud, we're not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.
Look, we all get it. Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you've grown as a person, but this is my actual education we're talking about here. Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can't afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone's inspirational narrative.
But hey, how much can I really know, anyway? I haven't had an actual teacher in three years.

8 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, but no where on The Onion’s website does the article even mention Teach For America. To say that The Onion has a piece "on Teach For America” is quite the leap—especially given that the details in the Onion article don’t actually match details associated with Teach For America. To start, their teachers are, in fact, NOT volunteer teachers.

    Not to mention that there are very few Teach For America corps members with a middling GPA or sparse law school application.

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  2. Oooh, getting a little touchy aren't we? Taking satire word for word literally. I think it hits at the very essence of TFA. I wonder what group they were talking about if not TFA.

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  3. So Anonymous actually thinks the satirist who wrote this was not using TFA as the object of this parody.
    Hmmm... let's check out some excerpts for a better handle on this:

    "... some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr... "

    A well-known alternative teacher training with program with a specific length of "five-weeks"? Nahhh, that's nothing like TFA. I'm sure there's countless alternative training programs famous enough that a satirist outside of education would have used one of those programs to satirize. Anonymous, if you can find a link to another such well-known-enough-to-warrant-satire program other than TFA that whose training last exactly five weeks, please offer it so you can prove me wrong.

    The kids is sick of "... dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn't know what he or she is doing... "

    Again, that's nothing like the well-known critisms people have lobbed at TFA for the last two decades.

    The kid desires "... a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate .... "

    DITTO.

    "... a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn't desperately trying to prove to herself that she's a good person.... "

    DITTO.

    "... sort of stepping stone to a larger career... "

    DITTO.

    "... someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won't get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.... "

    DITTO.

    "... adopted puppies you can show off to your friends... "

    Yeah, like you never read TFA blogs or books from former TFA-ers who talk of their students in such a manner.

    "... Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you've grown as a person... "

    Yeah, like you never read smarmy anecdotes from TFA-ers that condescend to low-income students while the writer gushes about how it makes him/her a better person in the process.

    "... can't afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone's inspirational narrative."

    DITTO.

    One more thing: nowhere in the fictional kid's letter does he ever refer to the alternatively-trained teachers as "volunteers", so that's a strawman.

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  4. I think there is a deeper point in The Onion piece, regardless of who is being mocked. Enthusiasm does not make up for experience and knowledge, especially if the enthusiasm is part of a short term attitude rather than a long term commitment. I read this piece in The Onion awhile ago before stumbling on this post and I found it funny at first, but by the time I finished reading both point and counterpoint, I wasn't really laughing anymore. It was too close to home for me to keep laughing. The worst part for me was that it would have been quite difficult for a 4th grader with that kind of education to reason and write his counterpoint so eloquently.

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  5. I agree with Anonymous above. At first I found it funny, but as someone who went through the NYC Teaching Fellows program (and quickly realized I couldn't hack it), it is pointing out a pretty dark truth. And, if I understand the above poster's intent, the kids involved don't get enough of an education to realize they are not getting an education. "They think they learn good". The whole thing is screwed up, and TFA (or NYC TF) ain't doing much to help.

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  6. As a TFA-er in New Mexico, this article was certainly humbling. But I have to say it was also kind of unnecessarily harsh... Not that I want to defend TFA in any way from these criticisms that are true in some cases, but I'm kind of tired of the blanketed criticisms of TFA. We're not all like this (hopefully), but I can understand how some more "privileged" corps members may ruin it for the rest of us. I'll admit, I'm pretty tired of TFA boasting its minute accomplishments with 1-2 students per classroom. Those are the students who would have probably succeeded anyways relative to the rest of their classmates. I get the optimism, but sooooo many voices of still underperforming students with severe needs for a better education are still unheard. From being on the inside, I definitely sense that people in TFA don't really like to talk about their failures with students.

    But back to why the article doesn't really do much....Somehow, the fact that about 1/3 of TFA corps members stay in the classroom after the two years seems to go unnoticed. I think TFA thus at least manages to feed teachers into the field, who may not have otherwise decided to teach. Also, after being exposed to the classroom, many TFA corps members struggle with the decision of whether to stay or not in the classroom. TFA is changing enough mindsets, in my opinion, to be making a positive impact on education. The more advocates, the better.... though we still have a long way to go and many TFA alum should stop thinking they are the God-sent answers to our enormous education problem.

    Bottom line: I'm sure this article will make many people in TFA, including myself, think about our own teaching and motivations to be here. However, the preaching of this article may only hit home with the choir. I'm trying to think, if I was one of the TFA-stereotypes this article highlights, I would be uber defensive and dismiss it. Try again, the Onion!! Not that you're known for this, but some epic facts to tell us arrogant TFA corps members off would be even more effective.

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  7. This is thoughtful and self-examining. I wonder what year are you in. On this point: "the fact that about 1/3 of TFA corps members stay in the classroom after the two years seems to go unnoticed." Yes that only 1/3 stay DOES get noticed. And beyond that, what are the numbers for year 3, 4, 5 when people really get their chops as teachers? I was in one school for 27 years in a high at risk neighborhood in Brooklyn. Most of my colleagues spend their careers in the school where there was little turnover. TFA does not take into account that a stable teaching group in a neighborhood school is a crucial element and TFA has helped the ed deformers destroy that.

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  8. http://www.theonion.com/articles/teach-for-america-chews-up-spits-out-another-ethni,1293/

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