Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why I Hate Teach for America

"Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big fan of the New York City Teaching Fellows either. I’m not defending NYCTF for it’s faults, which include provided precious little support and training for their new teachers as well as frightenly high turnover rates. According to a 2007 Village Voice article, by their fifth year teaching, less than fifty percent of Teaching Fellows remain from a given cohort. But at least in NYCTF the high turnover rate is seen as a failure. In TFA, the high turnover rate is designed as part of the program. TFA members are expected to leave teaching after their two-year commitment is up, those who continue to teach are seen as the exception."

From Anna, a 3rd year NYC Teaching Fellow. Read full piece posted at Feministe.

Thanks to Voice

22 comments:

  1. I hate TFA too. You should see how the "true believers" the brain washed ones come into a school. They have a total desdain for veteran teachers. They never attend union meetings. They are extremely cliquish. I think they have been instructed not to talk to the vets and not to get involved in union activities and like true Hitler Youth they follow orders--I am not saying all, mind you, there are some intelligent ones but enough of them for us vets to resent.

    Why can they not learn another language and why are soo many of them people of non color?

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  2. What I really liked about her post is that she is an alternatively certified teacher who actually talks about the effect that these programs have on children.
    It's not the usual, "look at me, I'm so great, I'm volunteering my time."
    Hope she stays in the field.

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  3. In reading her article, as well as reading the first anonymous post above, I find 2 things interesting.

    1) If TFA teachers are so bad (2 most cited things: a) lack of preparation through alt-cert programs, and b) their 2-year committment undermines stability at schools) then why are principals still hiring them?

    In my school, as well as many of my friends' schools in the south Bronx, there's plain and simple, not enough teachers. We've got high attrition rates (not just TFA-ers) and people are leaving rough schools in mass droves. ALL of the applicants my school recieves that are not TFA were either fired or excessed from their old school(Often meaning they are not the best or the brightest). If we didn't have TFA, we would have permanent subs teaching our classes.

    I would suggest asking your principal if and why they hire TFA. Do principals like that their recruits sometimes leave after 2 years? No. My principal doesn't. But the fact is, my school went from having a principal replaced to an A on the report card largely due to the work of TFA corps members. Is their program perfect. No. Are TFA members necessarily better teachers. No. But they fill a void in the hiring pool... and they take up jobs where many refuse to go. It's hiring economics: If there wasn't a need for them, they wouldn't be around.

    2) I think it's unfortunate some veteran teachers feel this way towards TFA. I have friends that do, and a lot that don't. Though I think it's unfair to call a bunch of twenty-somethings part of "Hitler Youth". Especially when they just dedicated their 2-years (and most probably longer... because over 1/2 of TFA's stay in the classroom post-2 year committment) to educating kids. Name-calling (especially from a teacher!) is hardly productive.

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  4. My principal and all of the adminstrators absolutely refuse to hire TFA teachers. They did, in the past though, and developed a serious distain for the way that the teachers came in for such a short period and seemed to have no intention of staying.
    They also feel that TFA does not encourage the development of teachers.
    We are a hard to staff school, and do hire many, many fellows. The general feeling is that although there is a turnover for fellows, the program itself is much more geared towards creating teachers, and not social networks for future coporate executives.

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  5. Why do principals hire TFA's? You're right that there are hard to staff schools - but I've found those are the places with principals who people don't want to work for. Career people don't leave good principals no matter where the school is. Of course TFA's are not career people.

    Now how did the TFA's help that principal? You see they principals know that TFA's will toe the line when it comes to testing and are trained to narrow their focus on the so-called achievement gap. More experienced teachers know a lot of this is bullcrap and may tend to be less enthusiastic.

    Another factor is that TFA is a corporate darling and some principals may see themsleves getting point with BloomKlein or whoever = "look how many TFA's I'VE hired."

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  6. In response to the first anonymous comment:

    I'm in TFA and I agree with a lot of her criticisms, well, all of them and in fact often regret the choice I made. That said, I'm well on my way to finishing my masters and obtaining my credential and have no intention of leaving my school or teaching. But in response to your comment, I can personally say that during my first few weeks of school many of the veteran teachers at my school made it very clear that they wanted nothing to do with me because of my affiliation with the program. I often asked for help, aware that my preparation had not been adequate, and I was still turned down. I attended union functions, but continued to be ostracized. Granted, none of this stopped me from doing my job, but it did make me gravitate more toward my fellow first year teachers including the other TFA teacher at my school. So, just so you know, sometimes the animosity toward the program spills out to the individuals (even if you think you're being nice) and it drives them away. Just food for thought!

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  7. What happened to you is really unfortunate. But you stepped into a mine field of resentment. But that is not new and in some schools has existed for decades. But the TFA rep has caused problems. Teaching Fellows too but many of them are career changers and some are a bit older so there's more acceptance.

    Generally people won't want to help if they think someone is leaving so one thing to do is to make it clear you're not.

    And then there's the vet attitude toward people they think are overly gung-ho: the ta-da attitude some TFA's give off that they are there to save the day.

    At any rate, good to see you are committed to staying in teaching (as opposed to TFA's who stay in education - policy, admin, etc.)

    I loved teaching but found it damn hard and yes, I resented people who left the "real" classroom after a short time to take jobs in the school that were teaching-lite.

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  8. Some teachers will not be helpful to new teachers no matter which route they have taken to the classroom. This is a sad but true reality.

    My school no longer hires Teach for America people, but we hire from other programs. Most of our staff is pretty welcoming and helpful. However, after spending large amounts of energy from year to year, trying to help and guide such teachers, only to see them leave after a short time, some people become turned off.

    I work with and help new teachers as much as I can. I don't do this out of affection for the teachers, but rather the children.
    As frustrating as the new temporary teaching positions are to us, it is the children who are suffering.
    I cannot, in good conscience, snub a new teacher whose training I disagree with. Their struggles in the classroom amount to struggles for children-most of whom are at risk to start.

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  9. 1. You have some excellent points. You are absolutely right that it sucks that enthusiastic, skilled teachers at best, and warm bodies at worst tend to leave the classroom after two years at such a rate.
    2. Not all TFA teachers act similarly to the ones noted in the comment above. I'm really sad to hear that attitude is happening anywhere, because in my TFA training, we were repeatedly and strongly encouraged to respect and honor teachers from any background/training/experience, to be as involved as possible and to specifically avoid becoming any sort of exclusive group (working with everyone, especially veteran teachers only makes us stronger!). The vast majority of principals in Memphis (where I taught) gave stellar reviews of TFA teachers and couldn't get enough fast enough.
    3. Reasons teachers leaving isn't apocalyptic:
    a)A sizeable chunk of TFA teachers would never have gotten into teaching without TFA. Regardless of when or if they leave, there are more passionate people in education because of TFA than without it.
    b)Even if they leave to pursue law school, business, med degrees or something directly outside education, these teachers can never look at a ballot or career decision involving education without their experience influencing it. (More people making reasoned, experienced decisions about education is never a bad thing).
    c) In my experience, a pretty big number of people who came in lured by the promise of "an experience" have ended up staying, unable to pass over the implications of broken school systems for the Lehman or Goldman-Sachs lives that their kids may never achieve in the current system.
    d) Depending on the exact year, region, etc TFA cites that somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of TFA folks stay involved directly in education or teaching. I struggled immensely deciding whether or not to leave my school but when it came down to it, I decided that I'm more skilled at working with adult administrations than with students. Therefore I see attaining a degree in Public Policy of MORE benefit to my students and the general public than me personally teaching. I can affect more people in a wider sphere when I really struggled and was worn down in the classroom, making me less than a perfect teacher.

    I don't hope to have the whole answer, but even a program with admitted flaws like TFA is better than doing nothing. If you have a better idea, please bring it into the open, get it to policy makers and legislature, tell me and I'll vote for it- god knows we need it.

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  10. I am a traditionally trained teacher. I have a dual degree in elementary and special education. I'm currently working on my M.Ed in Literacy. It pains me to think of the disservice we are doing our students with TfA. I've seen people with no background become literacy coaches in 3 years, teaching new recruits how to teach! It's an absolute joke. We are putting the wrong people in the neediest situations and often watching them fail. With programs like TfA we are putting a band-aid over a huge flesh wound in the American educational system. I believe that alternative programs can be a part of the certification process but TfA is missing the boat, big time. I teach special education in an inner-ring suburb of a large metropolitan area. I think of what our students are missing by having teachers, with less than 8 weeks of training, standing in front of them, especially in the elementary grades. Research proves that these primary years are the most important in shaping our academic success and our nation is willingly letting people with no experience or background teach literacy and math. Unfortunately, this is the way it will be unless this great nation of ours realizes that we need to turn things around, supporting our students at home and our teachers in the classroom. Our profession has lost its nobility. Students are disrespectful and are supported in their poor choices by parents. We need to reward teachers who pursue higher education degrees and continue to teach with higher salaries and an ounce of appreciation for the often thankless things we do and the countless hours spent helping students beyond our contracted day. Teach for America perpetuates the problem by supporting the idea that teaching is a stepping stone to bigger and better. In my mind, teaching is the bigger and better. Teach for America boasts that high expectations are required for student achievement. I agree, and I have higher expectations for programs like TfA and the people who have chosen this path. Step up to the plate TfA and require your recruits to enter the field and continue with their training to TEACH!

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  11. The complacency of union teachers is why TFA flourishes.

    Wake up- you are all part of a broken education system.

    Private, entrepreneurial solutions work better!

    Why can Catholic schools perform better in poor urban areas with even less resources than the public schools?

    Because they have the freedom to make the right decisions.

    Get the government out of education- it's a losing endeavor.

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  12. I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments. As someone who has had a passion for teaching since 1st grade, I am suspitious of someone who didn't want to obtain a degree in Education, but now wants to be a teacher. Why can't people who have dedicated their lives, and college degrees, to teaching get the same benefits as someone who decided teaching might be "fun" and/ or had no other options beyond college.

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  13. I've applied for TFA. I haven't been accepted yet, but I think that many of the comments on this blog are silly and misguided.

    You are right, I don't necessarily want to be a teacher for my career. I'm doing Teach for America because I am a sociologist, and I aspire to continue doing education research for a Ph.D or enter into public policy.

    Do you really want the future education policy makers of America to have not spent so much as a year in the classroom? The great disservice that is being done to our children is that the people at the top have no idea what these kids are going through and they take their recommendations from researchers who...guess what...don't have more than an abstract idea either.

    I don't want to be one of those people. Sorry for stepping on your toes, guys, but everyone who wants to joins TFA, or completes the program is not a superficial do-gooder or as someone ridiculously suggested, a person without any prospects beyond college.

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  14. I have been teaching in a rural, high-poverty school for the past 10years. I am a member of the community, and planned to raise my family here. I have been going to school continuously for 14 years in order to become the kind of teacher my students deserve.
    I graduated a year ago with a masters in curriculum & instruction with a reading specialty. And as a result was able to significantly raise my students' reading levels. Unfortunately, this created a great deal of animosity among my colleagues, because, as will always happen in certain close-knit communities, jealousies can run high.
    A few years ago, my school began hiring TFA's, but as we had none in our area of the school at the time, I knew little about them. This past school year, a literacy coach position came open, and one of the TFA's was given the job under the table before contracts were given. I turned down other opportunities fully believing I was being considered for the position.
    Once everything came to light, this girl approached me requesting that I hand over to her methods I had developed so that she could pass them on to "her teachers," and perhaps they would be more receptive if presented in a "different way." Essentially, she wanted to steal my techniques and put her name on them.
    I resent these "teachers," mostly for the fact that they have no qualifications and no training. It is extremely disrespectful to the teaching community to insinuate that these "bleeding hearts" can be lauded as the best teachers in the school, and chosen for positions over those of us who have invested years of our lives to doing what we love.
    To call themselves teachers is like saying someone with a bachelors in education can do two years of volunteer work in a hospital and call themselves a doctor. It is insulting to veteran teachers who have lives, families, and children of their own to watch everything they have worked so hard for be trivialized by putting young single college students in their place.
    There is one TFA in my grade level this year whom I passed on much of what I had created to help her feel more comfortable, but now I wish I hadn't been so giving, as she too is being held up as an example as "The perfect teacher."
    Because of this, and the fact that trying to advance in a career I love is nothing but a popularity contest, My family will be moving away after this year. It's sad really, how these young people come into a different culture and lifestyle for only 2 years, believing they can single-handedly undo the socioeconomic damage of these communities, and effectively drive away qualified, educated professionals who are actually invested in the school and communities. In my opinion the TFA program is unethical, and These "alternative routes" to teacher certification are a joke.
    Teaching is a highly underappreciated and underpaid profession, and those who truly love to teach children can succeed in making a difference in communities like mine. If these TFA's want to make a difference they should be willing to be truly committed to the profession and the community for the long-term. Watching these children grow up, and living their struggles with them. That's what being a teacher is; not volunteering for what amounts to short term community service points on their resumes once their time is up and they can move onto bigger and better things.

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  15. At the above anonymous comment-wow.
    As a long term, successful teacher I am in shock by the sheer nastiness of the above comment.
    It frightens me to think that such an individual is teaching children. This line, in particular is horrific to me:
    "Essentially, she wanted to steal my techniques and put her name on them."
    Steal your techniques?
    Teaching is about sharing of ideas and yes-using each others' techniques if you feel that they are worthwhile.
    Do you know why?
    Because it's not about you or your ego trip of how wonderful you seem to think you are.
    It's about helping children.
    I cannot believe you do not understand that.
    In addition, I've worked for a very long time in an inner city, at-risk school, and I've never been threatened by younger teachers.
    In fact, I've spent a great deal of time consoling and helping teachers from programs like Teach for America, who were overwhelmed by their first experiences.
    Despite my feelings about the program, I did my best to help them. Do you know why? Because helping them helps children.
    You would do well to learn this and if not-leave as soon as possible.

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  16. TFA is more than an augmentation to closing the non-existent achievement gap (in reality it is a socio-economic gap, and widening all the time). It is a process designed to show that there is no need for the professional educator. TFA supports the effort of privatization of education, something arguably unconstitutional if it replaces public education, like Arne Duncan would have throughout America. Privatization, or education for profit, uses the corporate quick and dirty approach that TFA lends itself to so very well. TFA has something to prove. It wants to prove that it has the solution to education through a model of taking recent youthful graduates and placing them into a classroom, yet unprepared for the rigors of the urban classroom, and "expend" their time, energy, and probable will to teach in exchange for the post-two-year greener pasture. In that sense, TFA is truly dangerous. Not only to the young volunteers who flock in times of economic depression to immediate post-graduate opportunity, but to the foundations of the education system of America, that evolved over a couple of hundred years to be influenced by progressives like Dewey and others. For if the TFA model unifies and solidifies with the Arne Duncan model, the role of professional educator is as much a part of American history as the U.S. Constitution before the Patriot Act. Americans should really take a closer look at how Washington endorses educating our children.

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  17. I have just finished teaching for two years in the Teach for America program, and I am familiar with both sides of the argument. I agree that TFA is a band-aid for the overarching disaster that is facing our public education system. As a graduate of an urban high school, I have always highly respected veteran teachers in urban schools and I do not agree that TFA should ever threaten any effective professional educator's job. In defense of TFA, however, this program is creating a wake up call for highly educated 20-somethings of the "me" generation. It is creating a wave of social consciousness in a group of very intelligent, accomplished young people who will one day likely have the tools to change the education system. After completing this program, the experience leaves you a strong conviction that all children deserve a high quality education, regardless of their zip code or the language they speak. And you will keep that with you and fight for that your entire life, regardless of your profession. This is TFA's theory of change, and I believe it is the most powerful idea of the organization.

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  18. I can only describe TFA in two words: foolishly arrogant. I completed one year with TFA. Why only one year when TFA requires members to commit to two? Because TFA changes the rules of their game to suit the agenda of TFA. In my case I was terribly placed in an area of teaching that was well outside my content area. I was trained to be an English teacher by TFA but that's not where they placed me. As a result, the charter school system with a 25% turnover rate did not take my contract the second year. TFA's policy (a word of warning to all prospective members) is they don't necessarily place you elsewhere and can (and do) drop members from the program. Because they do not like to lose at what they do, they are not very nice about it either.

    TFA's current problem, among hundreds of others, is that real teachers, the ones who went through accredited institutions and have credentials the day they walk into the classroom, are being laid off, so placement of ersatz teachers like TFA's becomes harder for that organization. Beyond this though, is the irrefutable fact that TFA has existed for 20 years and even though in some cases their results have been as good as that of accredited teachers, it has been no better and in many cases, far worse.

    The major problem facing TFA is that their rhetoric is twenty years old, held cult-like by die-hard members on TFA's payroll, and like a chain-letter or pyramid scam, TFA's existence depends on fanatical belief in order to raise the private funding needed to support the organization. The federal government is wisely expanding alternate certification program funding to other organizations making it competitive. In short, TFA's dogma, arrogance, and apparent lack of organizational intelligence to adapt has fostered the beginning of the demise of TFA as a viable organization.

    It is unfortunate that government officials at all levels appear to be moving toward the incredibly unregulated world of privatized education. Charter Schools, (many of whom don't have qualified principals: they call them directors) are loose cannons. They too play by their own rules. They are a natural marriage for organizations like Teach For America, and that is the unfortunate development in American education. If it weren't for the play it by ear, almost unregulated charter school systems, organizations like TFA would have folded their tents long ago. It should be noted however, that American voters are to blame. Americans need to understand that privatization of education and teaching with unqualified teachers is not the long or short term solution to American education. We need to fix the existing system. That is done, not by flailing moderately paid teachers, but by making administrators, many of whom earn salaries four times as high as the teachers in their charge, prove competence and do their jobs.

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  19. I can only describe TFA in two words: foolishly arrogant. I completed one year with TFA. Why only one year when TFA requires members to commit to two? Because TFA changes the rules of their game to suit the agenda of TFA. In my case I was terribly placed in an area of teaching that was well outside my content area. I was trained to be an English teacher by TFA but that's not where they placed me. As a result, the charter school system with a 25% turnover rate did not take my contract the second year. TFA's policy (a word of warning to all prospective members) is they don't necessarily place you elsewhere and can (and do) drop members from the program. Because they do not like to lose at what they do, they are not very nice about it either.

    TFA's current problem, among hundreds of others, is that real teachers, the ones who went through accredited institutions and have credentials the day they walk into the classroom, are being laid off, so placement of ersatz teachers like TFA's becomes harder for that organization. Beyond this though, is the irrefutable fact that TFA has existed for 20 years and even though in some cases their results have been as good as that of accredited teachers, it has been no better and in many cases, far worse.

    The major problem facing TFA is that their rhetoric is twenty years old, held cult-like by die-hard members on TFA's payroll, and like a chain-letter or pyramid scam, TFA's existence depends on fanatical belief in order to raise the private funding needed to support the organization. The federal government is wisely expanding alternate certification program funding to other organizations making it competitive. In short, TFA's dogma, arrogance, and apparent lack of organizational intelligence to adapt has fostered the beginning of the demise of TFA as a viable organization.

    It is unfortunate that government officials at all levels appear to be moving toward the incredibly unregulated world of privatized education. Charter Schools, (many of whom don't have qualified principals: they call them directors) are loose cannons. They too play by their own rules. They are a natural marriage for organizations like Teach For America, and that is the unfortunate development in American education. If it weren't for the play it by ear, almost unregulated charter school systems, organizations like TFA would have folded their tents long ago. It should be noted however, that American voters are to blame. Americans need to understand that privatization of education and teaching with unqualified teachers is not the long or short term solution to American education. We need to fix the existing system. That is done, not by flailing moderately paid teachers, but by making administrators, many of whom earn salaries four times as high as the teachers in their charge, prove competence and do their jobs.

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  20. I think that given the dismal state of our nation's public schools-mostly due to unions that do not care about the students- I view the fact that new teachers resist the "brain washing" unions as a good thing and a step in the right direction. These new teachers come in to try and change that "unions at all cost" mindset which in reality is more like the "brown coats" of Hitler than the idealistic new teachers that come in with a mindset of actually helping students.

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  21. Dear "Anonymous Feb. 26, 2012"

    How's that Kool-Aid?

    ATR

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  22. Teach For America is a joke and it is hurting the education system rather than solving the underlying issues.

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