Jan 25 2011

Quit rate for ‘misplaced’ CMs?

I got a lot of feedback from the ‘Calling All Quitters’ post from a few weeks ago.  I had figured that many of the people who quit would have written about the inadequate training model, strengthening my thesis that it’s really time to call for an improvement.

Many of the people who responded, however, spoke of being ‘misplaced.’  I thought I’d write a little about this phenomenon.  For twenty years, the TFA interview has always had the litmus test scenario:  “What would you do if you trained to teach high school math, and at the last minute you were told that the place with the most need was a first grade classroom.  Would you quit?”  Anyone who got into TFA knew that the only way to answer that question is to say “I would not quit,” whether it was true or not.  I remember after TFA interviewed me and also another guy I knew at Tufts and afterwards the other guy told me that when they posed that scenario to him, he had said that he would quit.  Then he told me that he was glad they warned him of that possibility since he hadn’t considered that when he applied.

Well, I thought he was not very strategic.  I didn’t think I would quit in that situation, but even if I thought I might I would have still said the same thing.  You’ve got to be smart enough to say the right things at an interview.

That question is supposed to test the flexibility of the candidate, but it really doesn’t test anything but how well you can ace an interview or how naive you are, thinking you have any idea what a challenge it is to teach in a grade level where you have absolutely no training.

But a certain percentage of people, I’m not sure what that percentage is, do get misplaced.  They train for one thing and then the needs of the district require them to accept a position in a completely different grade or subject level.  And from the responses to the ‘calling all quitters’ post, some of them do eventually quit, regardless of what they said at the interview.  Then, according to one of the comments, TFA staff reminds the CM that they said in their interview that they wouldn’t quit.

What I’m wondering is, first, what the ‘quit rate’ for CMs who are misplaced is (I’m guessing it’s got to be at least double the people who are placed properly, or about 20% — this is just a guess, remember), or at least what the success rate is — how well, do these misplaced CMs really do?  Assuming these numbers are as scary as I’d expect them to be the next natural question is why does TFA ever misplace people?

Five weeks of training, by anyone’s measure, is not a lot of time to master all the nuances of teaching.  The student teaching is about four weeks, but that is surely the most valuable component as CMs get to experience actual kids who quickly prove how unpredictable kids can be.  Now I think that the training is very inefficient, but I do think that it’s ‘decent.’  Certainly someone with no experience with a certain grade level is at a serious disadvantage.

So the real question is, what can TFA do when the jobs they hoped would be there simply are not there?  If misplacing people almost guarantees failure, what else can they do?  If misplacing weren’t even an option, what ‘out of the box’ possibilities are there?

Maybe the CMs can get paid full teaching salaries and health benefits by TFA while they await openings that relate to the training they received either in the region they have moved to or maybe even in another TFA region.  TFA could foot the bill for relocation if a CM has to move to another region.  While they wait for appropriate placement, perhaps these CMs could be substitute teachers and that way they can be getting more experience, while TFA could make up the difference of the money they make while subbing.

I realize that this solution costs money — precious money that could be used to help fuel the recruitment effort.  But if the goal is to narrow the achievement gap, TFA has no business sending someone into a situation where he or she has an extremely high chance of quitting.

Of course all of this is speculative on what the quit rate of the misplaced CMs is.  Any stories out there from CMs who were misplaced and had great experiences?

21 Responses

  1. Anon

    This post kind of scares me. I’m an incoming corps member assigned to Early Childhood Education, and TFA stresses the position is tentative. I’ve read a bunch of blog posts on here and on the web by people who were either misplaced or almost misplaced before a last minute correction. I’m afraid I’m going to study for and take the ECE Praxis II, and train for ECE during institute, and then, at the last minute, be assigned to something other than ECE. ECE is obviously very different from many of the other assignments, and this would be a pretty big shift. I don’t want to worry too much about it, but no one asked me at any of my interview stages what I would do if this happened, or at least posed it as a real or perhaps even likely possibility. It wasn’t until I read about that happening to people on here that it made me nervous. I hope the percentage of misplaced corps members isn’t as high as blog posts make it seem.

  2. Chelsea

    Having only just accepted my TFA position, the interview process and that question in particular is still fresh in my mind…and I find it interesting that TFA would use the answer to that “litmus test” question when faced with the resignation of a misplaced CM. It seems as if the question is used as collateral (dare I say, emotional blackmail?) for a potential future withdrawal rather than a test of flexibility, interview chops, or even naivety.

    Perhaps I can demonstrate some of that ingenuousness with my next comment, again since I’ve yet to actually begin my two year commitment…but why does misplacement necessitate failure? Disappointment I can understand, but teaching work is teaching work. I taught 3-6 year olds at a Montessori school for a year before taking on a class of 8th graders, and despite several obvious adjustments, my first experience adequately prepared me for the next. Obviously a year of preparation is hardly analogous to six weeks, but I’m inclined to believe that the problem is less that people are truly incapable of teaching a different age group and more that they truly don’t want to, hence the standard “what would you do if…” interview question.

    I could be wrong. But even if it’s true and people are genuinely unprepared to teach a different subject, is it really TFA’s responsibility to foot the bill while one waits for a preferable assignment? Maybe a better solution would be for TFA to provide additional support for the person in question to help them acclimate to their new age group. Or even go down the waitlist and engage someone who would be more willing to take on the different assignment.

    • Lavender

      Chelsea, Thank you for your comment!! I was a corps member and now work on staff. I never comment on these blogs, but I just HAD to today… I have seen this situation as a corps member holding a friend’s hand and as a staff member holding a corps member’s hand. I think that the issue here is not that each of us in the corps teaches our favorite grade level or subject (I, myself, was changed between grade levels due to my school’s needs), but that the corps member realizes what they are really in this for. This is for kids – this is not so that you can teach your favorite subjects. In addition, I have been in some of these conversations and no one blackmails corps members. Sometimes we do try to bring people back to what they joined the movement for – the kids… not a specific grade level or placement. Our system isn’t perfect, but there are many corps members in this situation who turn their situations around. We do provide extra support in these situations now (don’t know what it was like before I joined staff), but I hope that anyone out there reading who is an incoming corps member or interested in the movement to know that being in the corps is hard and full of unexpected challenges, but if it is in your heart to truly make a difference in children’s lives, realize that the challenges they face are far more complex than you getting to teach a specific grade. TFA does the best job possible. And, Chelsea, welcome to the movement! I hope your corps experience is full of success!

      • garyrubinstein

        Lavender,
        Thanks for the ‘party line’ TFA response. Don’t you think ‘the kids’ that they are ‘really in this for’ would benefit from teachers who have been trained to teach them? If this misplacement is expected, then TFA should alter training to account for this very real possibility, not accuse people of whining that they didn’t get to teach ‘your favorite subjects.’
        Gary

        • Rachel

          While TFA could definitely improve its training by making it longer, more intensive, and better adapted to the possibility of changing assignment areas (6 weeks is laughably short), the fact is that a lot of the comments you’ve had from those who quit are whining. TFA has made no secret of the fact that corps members are being sent to some of the most difficult classrooms in America and are expected to learn on the job. This is going to be very difficult and will necessarily mean a lot of failures before learning the ropes. I think the big problem is a lot of TFA members are so used to being academic stars that they are not equipped to handle failing for a while so you have a certain percentage of corps members give up before they can learn from their mistakes.

  3. garyrubinstein

    Anon,
    Good point. They can be getting additional training before they’re ready. This would have to include student teaching at that grade level, which is why I added to the post something about the possibility of becoming subs while TFA makes up the difference in pay and benefits. It’s true that teaching isn’t that different from level to level, but I’m hearing of people teaching Math who don’t know it very well and other stories. I like your analytic ability, and encourage you to challenge whatever you hear from me and elsewhere as you try to find the most accurate truth.

  4. garyrubinstein

    Chelsea,
    I don’t think that the percent of misplaced corps members is very high, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I just think that there is a small percentage (maybe five percent or something — I’m just making that number up) who get misplaced and I wonder if that number can be cut to less than one percent with some creative thinking.

  5. I find this particularly interesting because I guess I would have been considered “misplaced.” My original placement was Secondary English, I taught 8th grade ELA at Institute and took the Secondary English Praxis. About 1/2 way through Institute I found out that the school I had already been placed at to teach English had “changing needs.” I was really disappointed and wanted to stay at that school, so I was excited that they were able to offer me a Social Studies position instead. My first semester I taught African American History, US History and Psychology to 11th and 12th graders, a far cry from 8th grade ELA.

    My situation isn’t nearly as dramatic as some of the ones you mentioned, I had degrees in history and literature (although no background in Psychology, which made that one tough), so it wasn’t like I was totally flying blind.

    I just wanted to say that being misplaced isn’t always a total disaster. Though my Institute class & content were nothing like my eventual first semester, I found that all of the skills (such as they were) that I gained transferred. I never really felt at a disadvantage b/c of being “misplaced.”

  6. garyrubinstein

    Mrs. B,
    In your case, though, you were ‘misplaced’ in what I consider to be a much easier assignment. Now, I know that no teaching assignment is ‘easy,’ but having started in a middle school and then switched eventually to a high school, I can assure you that any training that you had for middle school would really help you be an effective high school teacher. Also at most TFA high schools the drop out rate is quite high that the 11th and 12th graders are really the top 20 or 30 percent of the 9th graders from two or three years before.
    I hope you don’t think that I’m belittling what you’re doing. Teaching is tough at any level, and teaching three preps with one that is new to you is quite hard no matter what grade you’re teaching. Keep up the good work.
    Gary

  7. Hm, Gary, your low percentage estimates of misplaced Corps members is interesting to me because from my experience with the 2010 TFA Detroit Corps, probably the majority of us were ‘misplaced’ at one level or another. I was trained for high school math (taught Algebra 2/Trig to seniors during institute) and was placed in a self-contained 5th grade class, then switched to self-contained 2nd grade class then switched to 7th grade math and social studies class before my breakdown and subsequent resignation. I never even got close to teaching in a high school setting (and yes the differences between high school and 2nd grade are quite extensive, something TFA apparently doesn’t fully grasp because there was never any effort to provide myself or others in a similar boat with additional elementary trainings, etc.).

    Also, my roommate taught a self-contained 6th grade class during Institute and is teaching high school math now. Another close friend here taught high school math with me during Institute and is now teaching middle school math but was still placed in a University learning/grad school cohort with all high school math teachers. Still another friend also taught high school math with me during Institute and is now teaching middle school English. I would say most of my friends that I know in the Corps here were misplaced at varying levels of extremity – whether they were trained for one subject and are now teaching another subject or whether they were trained for one grade level and are now teaching another grade level or both. All sorts of crazy combinations have happened. I would argue that in fact relatively few people (a minority) I know here were actually placed in what they were trained to teach during Institute.

    This perspective I have may partly be because I taught in a secondary math cohort at Institute and this was a more difficult subject exam to pass and as a result many people who I was friends with during Institute and now here in the region had to go to their back-up subjects (generally elementary) when they failed their secondary math exams. Additionally, I’m sure this trend of misplacement here was also largely due to the fact that Detroit was a rushed, chaotic charter region this year. Still, in my case (and in other friends I know still in the program or who have also resigned here), it definitely makes things much more challenging in most cases.

  8. garyrubinstein

    John,
    Thanks for the comment. I didn’t realize that this was so common. I guess then, that it’s something that TFA could alter their training model to address. Maybe people rotate and get a chance to teach students of different grade levels? I’m not sure what the ideal solution is, but certainly it is something that is worth thinking about before they double the size of the corps.
    I know that much of the training is general and the ideas apply to different grade levels, but perhaps there could at least be some workshops like ‘elementary school teaching for secondary teachers’ or ‘secondary teaching for elementary teachers.’ Another issue is that if you have a CMA who was a secondary teacher, they give you a perspective from that point of view, which doesn’t easily translate into the elementary world.
    Gary

  9. how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

    Gary,

    I have been irregularly following your blog since I was first accepted into TFA, but have become a more regular followers since my own issues with TFA began. I think you could call me the most misplaced of the misplaced. I was accepted into the 2010 RGV corps and did my institute and induction in Houston with the people I assumed I would be spending the next two years with. I had a ball and more importantly, I met some really good people an made some really good relationships.

    I came back to the RGV after Institute as one of a good number of people not placed. I was told not worry, that no one had ever, in the 20 years that TFA had been in that region, been transferred.

    Then things got a little crazy, ending with our placement director quitting and those of us who remained unplaced having the option of either transferring or deferring.

    There were so many things that went into my decision. I was fresh from Institute and I wanted to teach! I was sort of drunk off the the TFA mindset that I was so capable, I could move myself across the country (again) and be successful in a new region, with no support.

    After hearing about the position, which was a “push-in” or “pull-out” position, meaning I wouldn’t have a class of my own, I would be more like an individual tutor, I was sold. I packed my bags and moved to Philly.

    It was there that the you-know-what hit the fan. I got to district office, signed the papers, went to my school and was told I would be teaching Geometry and Corrective Math. Now, math was actually the only subject I had said I would not teach. I do not have mastery in it and I did not join TFA to become another teacher who is teaching something he/she doesn’t fully understand. It becomes important in this part of the story to say I was trained for middle school science.

    I basically freaked out, but was told I could quit or stay and teach it–regardless of the fact that I had not been told this was the position when I agreed to move..across the country…to a place where I didn’t know anyone…to teach something I didn’t know…in special education which I had not been trained in…in a class that had had a sub for the first part of the year…

    Fast forward. I am still here. I am still teaching. I am doing my best. But all I can say for future CMs or perhaps for people in power listening that if/when placement does not happen for a corps member, transferring should not even be given as an option. I feel like I have aged a hundred years in the past few months. Who did I think I was to be able to move myself to a new place where I didn’t know anyone to do the hardest job of my life thus-far? And more importantly, what does it say of this organization that the would allow me to that?

    All that said, there are many issues in reference to placement that TFA just does not have that much control over, which is understandable, but I really love some of your ideas about what TFA could do for mispaced/unplaced CMs.

    All that said, I still believe in the mission. I even still like TFA. I guess I am just disheartened by the fact that it is so much a matter of luck as to what you’re placed in and where as to how your experience will go. Some get lucky. Some don’t. I guess I am still just mourning the life that I thought I was going to have, the experience I thought I would get. (Perhaps my first big life lesson). I don’t know what I will do next year. I guess we’ll see.

    • garyrubinstein

      Sorry to hear about your ordeal. Teaching a subject that is not your passion can be extra challenging. I teach math and I was a math major and even I sometimes have trouble finding enthusiasm for some of the topics from the curriculum. Feel free to watch some of my math videos for inspiration at http://www.youtube.com/nymathteacher I’ve got a bunch of geometry things up there. Most are beyond middle school, but could give you a feel for what math lovers love about math.
      Gary

    • garyrubinstein

      And nice work for hanging in there. It sounds like you’re making the best of a tough situation. Maybe next year they’ll permit you to transfer to a position that you’d be more comfortable in.

  10. forthesprings

    “It is for the kids.” That is a thought that I had to continuously remind myself of throughout my TFA experience. I am just finishing up my 2nd year as a TFA Corp Member and am currently planning on teaching my 3rd. I applied at the 3rd deadline during 2009. I was originally placed in Los Angeles teaching elementary. Then, a week later, I was informed that they were cutting Corp size and I would not have a position. They kept me on the waitlist for 3 months before telling me that due to contraction, I was going to have to apply next year. I took a scholarship offer for Grad school. Then, on May 29, I got an email saying that I was placed in Denver teaching elementary school. This was great because it was my first choice. I flew to Denver three days later for induction. When I arrived, I was told that I may end up in Colorado Springs instead which was not stated before. I took a position teaching Globalization and Economics at the middle school level, despite the fact I had never had economics in my life. Then, I taught 3rd grade reading and math during Institute. Long story short, I know all about being a chess piece that is moved against their will to whatever position the player sees fit, regardless of whether it is logical. All I have to say is that at the end of the day, we are all there to make a difference for students in whatever capacity we can. It may not be fair or logical to someone with a frontal lobe but it is a position that only we can fill. Stay strong and put your left in front of your right while taking another sour sip of the kool-aid. :)

  11. Delta Darling

    I am a misplaced CM, and I am happy I was misplaced. Originally slated and trained for HS ELA, I ended up teaching third grade reading. I didn’t even know that kids needed to use the bathroom. Whatever. My kids grew their reading levels 2.41 years on average. It’s not about you. Or your placement. It’s about the education of children who go without every minute of their lives. Students, not teachers, need to come first.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I know that the misplacing thing has worked out for some people like you, and I’m glad when it does. But if a majority of people who are misplaced are not successful then that is not good for the students. If students really come first then they deserve to be taught by people who have at least some training specific to their grade level.

  12. Heather

    I am labeled a quitter, but I do not consider myself one.

    At the end of December during my first year as a corps member, I was moved to a school that did not want me and did not have room for me. They wanted a computer lab teacher. Instead, they gave me 6th grade. They had all of the 6th grade teachers select the students they didn’t want anymore, and that hodgepodge became my class.

    But it gets worse. There was no room in the school for me, so I taught these kids in the school auditorium. We lacked even the most basic supplies. I felt like I was teaching in a 3rd world country.

    Still, I stuck it out. I didn’t even consider quitting. The school was an hour from my apartment, and I stayed.

    Eventually, they found a classroom for me. But, over the summer, the principal let me know that I would have to be placed in the school auditorium once again. I could not begin to face that for another school year. I talked to my TFA PD about this, and I let her know I was going to try to get placed back at my old school. She even helped me draft a letter to my former principal. As it turns out, that principal did not have a vacancy, but another principal did. I accepted the position without a second thought, largely because the school already had 8 alums and corps members. It was DEFINITELY a TFA school. However, I was told after the fact that I would be kicked out of TFA for changing schools.

    I completed my year at that school, right alongside tfa corps members. I even mentored a first year teacher AT THE REQUEST of a TFA PD.

    Still, I am labeled a quitter. I’m now in my 9th year of urban teaching, by the way.

  13. McSchools

    Isn’t displacement (similar, it seems to misplacement) of teachers not unheard of for “traditional” teachers? I know of several teachers who were uprooted from one school, to a different school only to teach a different subject–sometimes vastly different subject–to a different grade level–sometimes vastly different grade level. So, excuse my ignorance, but why is this is such a pressing issue for TFA teachers? Why are they sometimes quitting because of this? (Besides, I suppose the fact that, quite simply, they can). Yes, i’m resurrecting an old topic, but I am curious…

    • Gary Rubinstein

      A traditionally certified teacher does not have to accept an assignment that he/she is not prepared to teach. TFA CMs are told to take the new assignment or be kicked out of the corps. Also, if you have only 5 weeks of training, you haven’t learned enough to ‘improvise’ on a different grade level like someone who has had longer training.

  14. McSchools

    Okay, but similarly, if you have five weeks of training, then you haven’t learned enough to be married to one placement or the other. A lack of training could also increase one’s flexibility, rather than hinder it.

    Traditional teachers don’t, technically, have to accept assignments, but it’s hard to imagine that many would not, especially if the other option is unemployment.

    My point is that teaching, especially right now, is a capricious field, for all teachers whether they be traditionally or alternatively certified. The idea of thinking you will have your assignment delivered in a neat package that is not subject to change, just seems a bit entitled.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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