Monday, July 7, 2008
Teach for America: The One That Got Away
I've been attending a July 4th party out here in Rockaway for about 30 years. I've seen my friends' kids and all their friends grow up - from 10 years old to 40 today - yikes. Their son has kept in touch with many classmates as far back as kindergarten.
Some of the best conversations I've had over the past 15 years has been with Eric, who has taught at an elite Manhattan private school for the past 12 years.
"The year I graduated was the first year for Teach for America and I went to one of their presentations. I saw immediately the idea was not for me. Six weeks to become a teacher? Of the most needed kids? No way!"
Eric fit the TFA profile. Ivy League, accepted at medical school, but wanting to try his hand at teaching even though he had taken no ed prep in college. Coming from a family with 3rd world roots, he would have been an asset to TFA to pump up their poor statistics in recruiting people of color.
Eric chose another route: two years as an assistant teacher in early childhood classes in another city. The obligatory MA from Teachers College and a full-time teaching job in kindergarten at an elite Manhattan private school, which he has been at for 12 years. Even ended up marrying the woman who was his assistant teacher and she is teaching there too.
Top private schools insist that teachers do a year or two of apprenticeship before turning their kids over to them. Anything hinting at a TFA model would be laughed at.
"But you're comparing apples and oranges," you might say.
The point is that all the very people claiming that closing the achievement gap is a civil rights issue, promote a program that provides a very different educational experience to the kids most in need. We hear the term "quality teacher" bandied about all the time. Yet none of these people advocate a plan that would train teachers to the point where they would actually be ready to go in and teach effectively. They use the TQ issue to engage in witch hunts for supposed "bad" teachers - which in their parlance means failure to demonstrate high test scores – rather than try to come up with a permanent solution that might cost, say, a fraction of the money used for wars or corporate bailouts.
But that wouldn't fit the very different models the corporate supporters of TFA and other schemes have.
The wealthy and suburban kids get skilled teachers and a broad based curriculum that prepares them to take a leadership role in the workplace.
The urban poor kids of color, except for the top performers who are skimmed off, are handed over to people trained for 6 weeks. Teachers are deskilled and expected to teach a narrow, test-driven curriculum which will prepare those kids who manage to get through high school for a job in data entry - basically handling the cash register at the local drug store.
See Under Assault's excellent analysis of Wendy Kopp's "selling" of TFA.