I’ve written a lot recently about how negligent it is that the student teaching component of the TFA institute is too short. A CM from Atlanta wrote to me that he only got 12 hours total. There may be people with less, but it seems like the average is around 20 hours.
For those of you not familiar with TFA’s training, they assign 4 teachers in training to one classroom. Those 4 teacher take turns being the ‘lead teacher.’ Summer school is 4 hours a day for approximately 20 days, which is why each trainee gets approximately 20 hours.
Someone asked me in one of the comments what I thought an appropriate amount would be. My answer is more complicated that just a number, however. Aside from the number of hours, I need to consider the number of students in the class. Teaching 34 students is a lot harder than teaching 25 students.
Back when I worked for TFA as a trainer in the 1996 institute, many CMs had extremely small classes, as small as just one student. At that time however, as I explain in my history of the institute post, TFA was just getting out of a financial crisis. The first four years of TFA 1990-1993 were in L.A. and each teacher was paired with a teacher in a school program. (L.A. had year round school.) Then after 1993 TFA ran out of money and made a budget institute in Houston and had to invent the collaborative model as a compromise. That was 17 years ago and TFA continues this budget model despite having plenty of money.
I think a good amount of training for a five week program would be 40 hours of 25 students. Multiply the hours and the size of the class and you get the number 1,000. That’s my benchmark. If you only have 20 students, I’d say you need at least 50 hours to compensate. This is just a metric I invented. I could make a more complicated one that factors in the fact that 24 students is a lot more that twice as difficult to teach as 12, but this is good enough to make a point.
What I’ve recently learned from reading the blog of one of the best up-and-coming 2011 corps is that her class ended the summer with only 8 students. When I asked her if this was common, she wrote back
It really varied at Institute, and even at my school. We had 25 on our roster, and about 16 showed up on the first day, but by the middle of summer school we only had about 8-12 on any given day. Some people I know had 4 kids in their class; some had 24.
I couldn’t believe it. There are TFA trainees that had only 4 students in their classes! By my (invented) metric, they score only 20 * 4 = 80 out of my recommended 1,000.
And if other classes had 24, why couldn’t they rotate the classes so that everyone got some opportunity to teach a larger class?
Four students? The first problem with this is that TFA signs contracts with school districts where they promise to have their trainees do a certain amount of student teaching. Four students does not qualify as classroom teaching. It is small group instruction.
But the bigger problem, of course, is that it sets these trainees up for failure. This makes me angry but, more than that, it makes me sad. I’m sad that these trainees are getting such a poor learning experience. I’m sure that those corps members suspect that something is just not right about this. Perhaps they delude themselves, thinking, “Well, I’ve got to trust TFA on this one. If they say it is enough practice then I’ve got to believe them. They must know what they’re doing.” I believe that if TFA were to track the success of the corps members who had so few students to practice with, they will have a much higher rate of quitting or being ineffective.
But the people I’m most sad for is the poor students who have to endure a teacher who has NEVER stood in front of a group of more than ten students until the first day of their actual teaching job. I have two children and I pray that they will never have to be taught by a teacher with such little practice.
And why is this all happening? Pure negligence on TFA’s part. This borders on criminal. TFA has chosen not to invest the money that is required to make a more authentic teaching experience. That’s all there is to it.
“But isn’t more complicated than that?” No. It’s just about money. TFA is just not willing to part with the money that they can use to expand. They see the two years of teaching as merely the ‘short term impact’ part of the goal — not as a responsibility to provide poor kids with the well-trained teachers they deserve.
They say on the growth plan on their website that training is their second priority (after growing):
Priority 2: Maximize the impact of corps members on student achievement
Ensuring that corps members attain high levels of success with their students is the linchpin of our work. This is what creates our short-term impact
Now, I’d like for all 2011 CMs who read this blog to leave a comment with the following information:
1) Which institute did you attend?
2) How many hours did you lead teach?
3) What was the average size of your class?
4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute?
5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute?
6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute?
Don’t cover up the truth because of some loyalty to TFA. Be loyal to what is ethical.