Jul 22 2011

Why do some TFA trainees have only 4 students in their student teaching classes?

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.

Thank You.

23 Responses

  1. beault

    1) Which institute did you attend? NY

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? 24 by the end of this.

    3) What was the average size of your class? We were parallel teaching, don’t get me started on that crazy, I only had 7 kids to keep track of out of the 13 in the class.

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? 6-8 total in the class, 3-4 total per lead teacher if they parallel teach.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? 28 kids in a 9th grade class taught by one teacher for 1.5 – 2 hours a day.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? Probably 15, but with parallel teaching those numbers are going to be thrown.

  2. 1) Which institute did you attend? NYC

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? By the end of institute, it will be approximately 18, give or take an hour.

    3) What was the average size of your class? The first two weeks (7 days) I taught 5 students, the third week (4 days) I taught 4 students and the last week (3 days), I will teach the whole class of 9 students. I also parallel teach.

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? I believe mine was one of the smallest. One of the classes was 6 students I think, and the teachers were paralleling as well, meaning 3 per teacher.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? I think there were middle school classes with 20 or so students. I also think one of the 4th grade classes had 24.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? In the 3rd grade (what I am teaching), I believe the average is 9. I think the 4th grade average is higher.

  3. Melissa

    I was a 2010 CM at the LA Institue. I taught math at a HS to 42 kids each day for 20 hours over the summer. This was the same across most of the classrooms at my school site. I’ve never heard of any single-digit classrooms at the LA institute during my experience there.

  4. aea107

    1) Which institute did you attend? Philly.

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? I am going to estimate about 35-40, because my collaborative partner quit and because ECE has alternating lead teaching during math/literacy hour every morning in addition to each CM’s lesson block (or two as was the case in my group).

    3) What was the average size of your class? 15. Not average; it was a 15 person class (was 19 on roster).

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? Like 8 or 9. But the thing about ECE is that in most regions including mine there are strict student number limits. In DC the pre-k limit is 15 and in Baltimore it is 20. So 8 might not be realistic, but 15 is.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? Probably 16 or 17 or it might even be ours.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? 14.

    While I appreciate the focus you place on the experiential element that is necessary to mold and shape gifted teachers, your post makes it seem like CMs teach for an hour a day and then go home, or as though experience in front of the class is the ONLY method of training that matters. While I agree it is certainly the most important, it might be prudent to consider the impact that our management, planning, curriculum, diversity, literacy, and advisory sessions have on our development as competent teachers. I do feel I have learned the most through my time in front of my kids, but I would not just poo-poo all of my other sessions (especially management, which I know is new, but I have found extremely helpful and important and easily implementable).

  5. Beyond the Composition Book

    I attended the Phoenix Institute. I was the lead teacher for 14 hours and did 10 hours of small group instruction (AIH). We also did a lot of team teaching which gave me about half of our class for roughly 2 hours over the course of summer school. Our class had 31 on the roster and typically about 26 would show up. The smallest class that I was aware of was 7 (high school English) and the largest was ours. I would estimate that the average class size was about 15. Elementary classes were MUCH larger than High School.

    We had a lot of behavioral challenges in our class–I think largely because of the amount of kids we had. But I was always thankful for learning how to manage a large class at institute instead of during my first few months of teaching.

  6. KC

    1) Which institute did you attend? Chicago

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? 25

    3) What was the average size of your class? 16

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? 7 (started with 19 on the roster)

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? 30

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? 15

  7. Caitlin

    1) Which institute did you attend? Atlanta

    2) How many hours did you lead teach?
    12 (We taught 16 days for 45 minutes. We missed 2 days of teaching due to the Atlanta cheating scandal which at my school resulted in us being booted from the building for 3 days).

    3) What was the average size of your class?
    My class had 14 students.

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute?
    I’m not really aware, but I’d say that classes ranged from 12-20.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute?
    I’m not really aware, but I’d say that classes ranged from 12-20.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute?
    I’d say that classes ranged from 12-20.

    The numbers that others are posting in terms of hours seem quite high to me. I’m not sure if others lead taught for an hour a day, but in Atlanta it was 45 minutes per day for math, or 90 minutes every other day for ELA. I know the New York institute only has 15 teaching days because there isn’t school on Friday. And that doesn’t count testing days (if they are high stakes institutes). Also, I know that Houston had a ridiculously low number of days, something like 9 or 10 teaching days, due to HISD’s budget cuts.

    • Ms. D

      1) Which institute did you attend? Houston

      2) How many hours did you lead teach? – 17 hours if you include testing days.

      3) What was the average size of your class? – class size was 20, 27 on roster.

      4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? – at my middle school in particular there was a class with 8 students in it, but I know of a high school classroom that had 4.

      5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? I think ours was one of the largest.

      6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? probably around 14-16

      I replied to Caitlin’s comment because she is right about Houston. We began teaching the very first week of institute and only had 13 days of teaching (but two full days of testing and one full day of “data analysis”) so really 10 days of teaching. The middle school I was at had me teaching 80 minute blocks but my collab members only taught either 45 minute or 40 minute blocks because of the way the school divided up the blocks. I would also say that I don’t necessarily think the time matters as much. I mean it matters don’t get me wrong, but the class size I think matters the most. I learned how to manage around 20 middle schoolers at once and am SO thankful for that considering some of my CMA group learned how to manage a very quiet 8 7th graders which is nothing compared to what they may see in the fall.

  8. Justin

    1) Which institute did you attend?


    2) How many hours did you lead teach?

    As Caitlin said above, Houston ISD cuts created a very short summer school. I taught on my own for 13 hours, and co-taught (with another teacher who shared my students) for an additional two hours.

    3) What was the average size of your class?

    My class had 8 students almost every day – one student was ill one day. Absences were not being tolerated by teachers or by the school; from my understanding, missing three days meant that the student would be forced to repeat the grade.

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute?

    One of my friends had one student for a period. Her class initially had three students, but two were expelled from summer school. One of the expelled students was later allowed to return.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute?

    I’ve heard of a few in the 30-35 range.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute?

    Probably 10-12. From what I understand, the school that I worked at typically has a high number of summer school students, but due to new initiatives, many more students than either TFA or Houston ISD was expecting passed the TAKS on the second time around. As a result, our class sizes were on the lower side.

    • Justin

      (just to clarify, said friend had one student for a period of time – at least a week – not a single class period).

  9. I am a school director at the Chicago Institute and I know the class size at my school was not a factor TFA had any control over, to some degree. The enrollment of this site was entirely in the hands of CPS and the assignments of CMs (and as such the number of collabs) was not finalized until days before our start. Acutal number of kids in classrooms was a direct result of the recruitment the school (counseling department, data processing) had done, Teach for America had no control over it. To this end, I had an entire CMA group removed in the week before starting because my school was not going to have enough classrooms to support CMs.

    However, there is an area where TFA can impact the number of CMs or their teaching time. This layer was the institute curriculum required in order for a TFA collab to be placed in a classroom. For example, even though a 3rd year English course was being taught at my school site, TFA has not developed the curriculum for it which meant we could not place teachers in that classroom. Claims of data integrity on CM effectiveness would be the TFA response, claims of overworking CMs to develop their own long term plans would also be a part of this response (I know because I asked). Similarly, at my school site, there was an autistic program, a bilingual program and a freshman connection program all occurring this summer but we could not place CMs at because the curriculum did not exist for those classrooms.

    One way teaching time was affected that no one had any control over was the difference in summer school models across the Chicago Public School system. Some schools taught 4 days every week, some (like mine) taught 5 days every week. Some schools started before Institute did, some right in line with the Institute start date. Factors like this and student enrollment make standardizing classroom size and teaching time very difficult to correct for on an institute-wide level.

    At the school level, we were able to increase CM teaching time by making strategic decisions about semester one versus semester two content for students. This is specific to high schools as students come to summer school needing either a first semester credit or a second semester credit. Our time with students was actually split into two separate sessions (about 2 weeks with each group) that had sets of almost entirely different kids. In the first session, >95% of kids actually needed first semester material, so we taught only first semester material. In the second session however, numbers were split and in some cases, the split was about half and half. So, for our collabs in biology and chemistry, we actually split the collabs in half with 2 people teaching semester 1 material and 2 people teaching semester 2 material in separate classrooms. This doubled the amount of teaching for those CMs in the second half of institute yet made their classrooms change from ~30 to ~15. This also resulted in twice the amount of planning they had to do. They went from planning a 65 minute lesson (normally around 1, maybe 2 objectives) to being responsible for 4-6 objectives over 130 minutes. This was a big change in expectations for their workload. Was this the right choice for kids? Absolutely, they got the content they needed. Was this the right choice for CMs, my gut says yes. Did it cause inequality within my school? Yes.

    All this to say, there are many layers to the number of kids and the actual time each CM gets to teach. Some layers are a direct result of TFA structures, eg curriculum, number of CMAs/CMs assigned to each school as a result of projected enrollment. Other layers are a result of smart decision making at the ground level of the school site. When you asked the CMs at my school whether they enjoyed the double time or not, you would get very different responses from each CM. Some felt it was unfair they had more work, others were ecstatic at the chance for more teaching. Since teaching time is a nebulous number that is so different across every institute, this conversation is very difficult to have with any sort of accuracy in terms of policy decisions.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I do appreciate that it is a difficult task to get the CMs an appropriate student teaching experience. But TFA has enough money that I cannot accept that some things are just out of their control.
      By increasing the budget for training by a lot, there are a lot of creative things they can do. One thing they can do is run their own summer schools. They can pay kids to come to the school and rent the buildings out, or they can bus kids to the college campuses that they are training at. These kids can be some of the hundreds of thousands of kids that have been taught by CMs over the years. TFA could keep a database and invite them for a free summer school enrichment course.
      You see, with a near unlimited budget, a lot can be done. TFA would have to decide that this student teaching thing is a fiasco and that it would be worth it to do it right. Otherwise, I’d say they should reduce the size of the corps. Better to get 2,000 well trained teachers than 4,000 that aren’t.

      • Ms. D

        But would this really be helpful? Then you would have students voluntarily coming to school which is characteristic of kids that are already motivated. Would this be a true picture of what you would expect to see in the fall? Doubt it.

        • beault

          There are too many things at play at institute that make the institute experience already unlike what a first year teacher would expect to see in the fall. Judging a child’s motivation to come for a month vs. coming for an entire year is not a fair comparison, and ultimately results in even the kids who normally like school acting out when the material is going to slowly or too quickly for the majority of the class. There is already a mix of motivations for why students are in summer school, some ranging from required to enrichment, but all have a feeling of they would rather do something different with their time in the summer. Trying to say that students who are in summer school because of failure/absences and are now making up time is not the same as students who you know you will see for an entire year and will have enough time to invest each of them in a long term goal.

          I’ve already thought that it is unfair that parents don’t really seem to know that their children are being taught by TFA during their required summer (or at least the parents my collab talked to do not seem to know). There are at least 5 students in my classroom who deserved some intensive reading and writing help during this month in order to be truly prepared for the next year, something that my collab wasn’t able to offer because we were bogged down with the entirety of institute and learning how to work on behavior management.

          Summer school students are especially vulnerable to failure if they are not fully engaged during the month of summer school. While I think that TFA could utitlize the idea of summer school still to train their teachers, I’d advocate a program that was under their roof so that everyone – students, parents, teachers, summer mentor teachers – was clear that this was about teacher training, not about un-failing failed students.

  10. christinetung

    1) Which institute did you attend? LA

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? 13.5

    3) What was the average size of your class? 35

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute? 8

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute? 42

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute? 25

  11. elsa

    1) Which Institute did you attend? Delta

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? around 18

    3) What was the average size of your class? 10

    4) What was the smallest class that you were aware of at your institute? 4

    5) largest class? 32-ish

    6) average class size? around 15.

  12. SJ

    I can’t help but add my two cents here.

    It boggles my mind that that TFA is so negligent in the student teaching experience that it gives its members. Now I am sure that there are plenty of TFA teachers that are doing well and are great in the classroom; but looking over all the numbers that so many of you posted for your class sizes and number of hours teaching before you starting working at a school is insane. I was a first year teacher this year, had to take long term sub positions for the first half of the year until I finally got a permanent job (with the hiring freeze in NYC its super difficult). But even still – all the charters wanted “experience” yet TFA’s got jobs with so little student teaching time. OH MY GOODNESS! That’s just crazy. I mean observed for for 130 hours in different classrooms at different levels and then student taught for 5 months everyday. I taught two classes on my own (2 different levels might I add) and then stayed the rest of the day to observe some more.

    I really believe that it was all of that experience that let me walk into my classroom (of 35 kids in each class) and feel like I had an idea about what I was doing.

    Again, nothing against people who are a part of TFA but TFA needs to do something and do something quickly. It is totally a disservice to the kids (and to the TFA teacher) to throw a teacher in a classroom with virtually no experience.

    Now maybe my undergrad program was just hard core but with all the $$ TFA has there has got to be away to make those few weeks of summer school amount to more than ~20 hours teaching on your own.

    Sorry if that came off like me just venting – but i did warn that it was just my 2 cents.

  13. I was a 2010 Corps member (since resigned – I’ve posted my TFA horror story elsewhere on this blog or you can check it out at ‘recoveryingfromTFA.wordpress.com’), and while I had a pretty full class during Institute of around 30 students myself – albeit high school seniors when I was then hired by an elementary school…oops (I was at the Chicago training last summer by the way) – I know Corps members who were at that same Institute who taught much smaller groups of students – classes of 8-10 students were not uncommon and I even heard about a Corps member (four actually who were in the same teaching collaborative) who shared one (yes, one) student during their entire summer teaching experience. One of these Corps members was then selected to share at the ‘End of Institute’ closing ceremony about their summer teaching experience and everyone in the audience there had a good laugh when he shared how he and the three other Corps members in his collaborative shared ‘teaching’ duties with this one, single student during the entire summer. In actuality – while funny on a certain level – this is a very disturbing reality and certainly nothing TFA-ers should have found loads of humor in…TFA training is hopelessly inadequate even when a Corps member is teaching a full summer school class, much less a class of one…or four…or eight…or 10 students…

  14. takingnotes

    1) Which Institute did you attend? ATL

    2) How many hours did you lead teach? Around 20 but that is a rough guess.

    3) What was the average size of your class? 13

    4) What was the smallest class that you were aware of at your institute? no clue.

    5) largest class? no clue

    6) average class size? Probably comparable to mine… again no clue.

    I know I’m late to the party but I felt like I had to post that info as a buy-in to the conversation.

    While I agree that CMs should have significantly more classroom experience before the school year starts, I want to add a few things.

    First let me say in defense of the admittedly imperfect institute structure, eliminating the collaborative group teaching aspect probably is not the best solution. I learned SO much from the other 3 members of my collab group. And, of course this is hypothetical, but I can’t imagine that I would have learned more from having those few extra hours (which still wouldn’t have equaled Gary’s metric anyway) in front of the class than I learned from the hours I spent observing, supporting, and most importantly discussing and brainstorming with my collab.

    And, though not one of us was a competent teacher when they put us in front of those kids this summer, the fact that there were 4 of us working and able to give that much more individualized attention and effort to our kids meant that collectively we at least stood a fighting chance of teaching them something.

    Secondly, I want to add that TFA is far from the only teacher training program that has flaws. I would argue that a large number of traditional teacher training programs- ie an education major, also have substantial flaws. This is anecdotal of course, but I can honestly say that I learned more that I will take to and use in the classroom this fall in five weeks of institute than in the 5 semesters of classes it took me to complete my education minor.

    Finally, and I hope my school site at institute wasn’t the only one where CMs were told this but no worry that maybe I was- TFA knows institute alone is not enough to make a good or even a competent teacher. Our school staff constantly reiterated to us how much further we had to go, how we could continue to gorw as educators, etc.

    Maybe I am just abnormally positive thinking but I never that TFA just put be through an assembly line and then stamped me as a finished product ready to be shipped. Institute is just part of a process, and TFA tries to recruit people who have the commitment to the task and the willingness to take the initiative to continue to improve…. even in spite of being woefully unprepared.

    Just some things to think about.

  15. CM 2011

    1) Which institute did you attend?

    2) How many hours did you lead teach?
    Teaching: 20-25 hours
    Behavior Mgmt: 20 + addt’l 10 hrs, probably

    3) What was the average size of your class?
    The roster was around 25. We had 4 students that never showed, around 2-3 that weren’t on the roster. I’d say on any given day, it was 19-24?

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute?
    I heard of classes that were 4-7 students, which is insane because a lot of the elementary students were there for enrichment.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute?
    Our class and maybe another middle school class. I did hear of a class of 32 HS students?

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute?
    No idea. At my school, I think most of the classes were around less than 15 students. Also, TFA encourages parallel teaching which is “great” but, it doesn’t realistically prepare you for being the sole teacher in a full house classroom during the school year.

    I could go on and on with praises for TFA but the fact of the matter is this: many teachers were trained at institute and ended up teaching completely different ages in the Fall.
    I know, I know: Teaching is versatile, it’s an experience… Well, difficult behaviors LOOK and FEEL differently across ages. A defiant 10th grader who is larger than you is VERY different from a non-compliant 3rd grader that crys at the first show of authority. I mean, really, it isn’t fair to the students or the teacher.

  16. Courtney W.

    1) Which institute did you attend?


    2) How many hours did you lead teach?

    I led taught for 90 minutes a day for 19 days (almost 30 hours).

    3) What was the average size of your class?

    I parallel taught a class of 14 students. One-two students were absent every single day. Because of the parallel teaching, the class was split in half and I taught no more than 7-8 students at a given time.

    4) What was the smallest class that you are aware of at your institute?

    6 students total on the roster, and at least one student was consistently absent over the 19 days of instruction.

    5) What was the largest class that you are aware of at your institute?

    20+ students at my school (on roster). I can’t be sure of other schools.

    6) What do you estimate the average class size at your institute?

    Probably about 14 students.

    For the record, I’ve been extremely unhappy with my TFA experience, I’ve felt incredibly unprepared, and I’ve decided to resign because I think it’s selfish and irresponsible of me to stand in front of a group of children and pretend to teach them each day–particularly when I would never knowingly allow my own child to be taught by a teacher like me. It’s a decision that I’m comfortable making for my life at this time and I’ve talked extensively with my principal about the issue to stress the importance of bringing in a teacher with a few years experience for my class, after 6 weeks with me. I have lately been wondering if I’d have been willing to stay for the two years if TFA had an apprenticeship program or a more effective training program. My personal feelings just wouldn’t allow me to stay on any longer, though. I do, however, wish the rest of the 2011 TFA and their students much success.

  17. ReadingMama

    As an undergrad ed major, I am appalled by the lack of training that I am reading about. In our senior year, we were full time student teaching for the entire school day from 8-3:30 pm from January – May. In the beginning, we taught one subject per week, until we finally taught the entire day for like a month. I cant believe how little training TFA gives. It sets many up for failure.

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