Do you feel horribly unprepared for the task you are about to undertake? If you answered ‘yes,’ you are correct. If you answered ‘no,’ then you’re really in trouble.
TFA’s training model is so flawed that without some serious extra reading and thinking on your part, you are doomed be a highly ineffective teacher next year.
How can I know this? My first reason is empirical: Just as I can look at a rocket ship made out of cardboard by kids and know that it is not going to fly, I can look at an improperly constructed training model and predict how successful it will be. My second reason is just inductive. Your training is just as bad as the training the 2010s received last year and, though TFA sometimes claims how successful the first year CMs are, the most telling comment is one made by Wendy Kopp in her latest book. On page 126 she writes about the CMs: “our teachers are still not, on average, changing the trajectory of their students in a truly meaningful way.”
Basically what she is saying in the new book is that TFA has shifted it’s focus and is now on it’s third mission. The first mission 1990-1997 was to fill teaching vacancies in regions with teacher shortages. The concept was that even if the TFA CMs were doing a poor job, that was still better for students than what they would experience if they were taught by a different substitute teacher each day. The second mission 1997-2010 was to close the achievement gap. It was during this mission that the ‘One day all children …’ statement was written. Now, you’ll see from Wendy’s book, because TFA is failing to accomplish enough with the second mission, they have moved onto the third mission 2010-20??: Develop new educational leaders.
Wendy explains in her book that though there have been some great teachers, (page 126) “It is a very rare person who can be a transformational teacher outside of a transformational school.” So her solution is to make the main mission of TFA to recruit educational leaders who will lead schools in which new CMs and other teachers can be more successful.
Now, I have several problems with this new mission. The first is that it diverts attention and resources from what I consider the most immediate concern: How to train the new CMs to be effective as possible considering that they are going into a school that does not yet have a TFA trained educational leader.
The training model that you are experiencing, you must have figured out by now, is terribly inefficient. I actually DO think that it IS possible to train people to be competent teachers in five weeks. I just don’t think that TFA knows how to do this. The biggest problem with the training model is the amount of student teaching each CM gets. It would be costly, but well worth it, to find a way to have each CM to get at least double, if not four times, the amount of actual practice in front of kids. One thing they could do is simply pay families to sign their kids up for the summer program. Another option is to cut the size of the incoming corps while keeping the same budget for training.
The training is not very good and, as Wendy explains in her book (pg. 127), it is not going to get better anytime soon: “And it would be misguided to assume that there’s an as-of-yet undiscovered route for teacher preparation or retaining excellent teachers that will prove to be the silver bullet. There is no evidence, for example, that longer preservice training, teacher residencies that place new teachers as apprentices for a year before they assume full-time teaching positions, or incentives for teachers to stay in the classroom longer produce significant impacts.”
To interpret: Our new CMs are not that successful. It would be a waste to invest more resources into training since it won’t make a difference.
So, taken right from the founder of TFA, you now know why your training is so meager. You are part of a machine that takes in thousands of eager college grads and outputs a handful of educational leaders.
The second problem I have with this new TFA mission is that it is the conclusion to her chapter about how the common ‘silver bullets’ (charter schools, pumping more money into schools, breaking the union) to fix education, won’t. Wendy doesn’t realize that this leadership thing is just her own ‘silver bullet.’ In a recent TFA alumni magazine, there was a big quote from Arne Duncan, something like, “If we had 10,000 good principals, we’d be done.” I disagree with this premise and the fact that TFA agrees worries me. I think that anyone who agrees with anything Arne Duncan says about education is very simple-minded when it comes to the real issues.
The third problem I have with this new mission to recruit leaders is that from what I’ve seen so far in TFA’s history, the leaders they turn out often lack wisdom. They teach for two or three years before becoming leaders and they too quickly forget how difficult teaching is. They show, as new leaders, the same flaws that new teachers show: They come up with a bad idea, but implement it anyway because they don’t have the savvy to predict the negative side-effects of that bad idea.
So now you know why your training is as poor as you, deep down, suspect it is. (If you think you’re getting good training, you are in extreme denial. You have no chance to overcome the poor training before school starts if you don’t first overcome this.) So what can you do about it?
Well, since you can’t just proactively get another 20 hours of student teaching, all you can do is read and think more deeply about the issues. If you want, I won’t mind if you buy and read my two books. If you don’t want to pay for advice, most of the ideas in those books can be found in old posts on this blog. My critique of TAL is a good start.