Since my own first year in 1991, I’ve been very interested in the quality of teacher training at the institute. Each year, I’ve done my own sort of evaluation of what they’re teaching and how well they’re doing it. It used to be the feedback forms from my workshop. Since this year, for the first time, I was effectively prohibited from doing my workshop (I did it, but because of poor scheduling and communication, only one person came, and that was someone I personally invited), the only thing I have to go by is what the new CMs are putting on their blogs.
Based on some of the mistakes that I see the new CMs make, I think about how it reflects on TFA’s training. Is it that TFA encouraged them to make these mistakes? Or did they try to warn them about these mistakes, but did a poor job of getting that message through? Either way, it’s something TFA should think about.
An example of this is from an enthusiastic new science teacher. Here’s a quote from a longer blog entry called First Friday This is what he did on his fourth day of teaching high school chemistry:
Today I taught about the theory of Malleable Intelligence (for TFAers, we get an article in our TAL curriculum book that I just photocopied and turned into a lesson plan. Hooray instant lesson plan!), and I started out with a controversial quote from DNA discoverer James Watson, who said something about blacks having inferior intelligence to that of whites. It was meant to be a conversation starter, and with my other classes it worked out well. With this one class, I’ve got six students who love to speak out, and argue, and protest that I’m being unfair (stop whiiiiining), and another six who I haven’t heard a peep from. They worry me. I feel like I don’t have the time or energy to help the silent half of my room–who I know are having trouble–because I’m so busy keeping the other half in check. In short, differentiation is hard. It’s harder when you’re not very good at classroom management.
Somehow this guy graduated from the TFA institute thinking that this was a good idea for a new teacher who doesn’t really know his kids yet. New teachers should not take such risks, especially during the first week. The kids need to feel secure that their teacher is teaching the ‘regular’ curriculum. Kids should learn a simple skill that the teacher can easily measure whether or not they mastered it so they can do well on the first quiz or test.
Instead, this guy thinks a good motivation is to show them a racist quote. In theory, this would motivate kids to prove James Watson wrong. It would wake them up and get them into the lesson. In reality, he just hasn’t earned the right to do a lesson like that. It doesn’t seem to fit into the curriculum and it can make the students angry in a bad way. It’s just a terrible risky idea. (The article came from the TFA handbook, I’m sure not as something that they think you should teach your class, but something to spark a discussion about low expectations for minorities during teacher training — it’s definitely not intended to be an ‘instant lesson plan.’)
My question is, what was it about his training in TFA that enabled him to think that this was a good thing to do? Did they reccommend it? Or did he misunderstand something? Probably the later. Either way, though, it shows that TFA is either teaching risky practices, improperly teaching good practices, or just not assessing properly if the new teachers have learned the good practices.