Two posts ago, I wrote my most widely read post of all time (nearly 12,000 hits) about how upset I am with the current ‘direction’ TFA is headed in. In case you are wondering, I do not ever get contacted by anyone in TFA to beg me to stop. I really don’t think they see my posts as a threat or as any kind of motivation to make changes that would make me not feel the need to make such posts. Maybe there are people in the TFA national office reading these posts, I don’t know.
But I don’t want to seem like someone who just likes to complain without having any of my own ideas about how things can be improved. As an out-of-the-box thinker, I know exactly how I could easily turn TFA into an organization that I’d once again be proud of. (And then I could start wearing my T-shirts again.)
The fact is that the vast majority of people who apply to TFA are not just people looking to pad their resumes, but good people who really care and want to do something to ‘give back’ to the society that has provided them with such opportunities. They are not any different than I was when I applied, about 21 years ago. TFA does have an army of smart, energetic people. That they choose to misuse this energy does not mean that there is not a way to use it properly.
In this post, I’ll explain how TFA can be fixed.
One issue I’ve had with TFA is that the teachers are not trained well and therefore don’t give the kids they try to serve a qualified teacher. Teaching is very hard. Being a new teacher is almost impossible. It is a job where you really need an assistant to grade papers for you, to call parents for you, and to help kids one-on-one.
So here’s my plan: TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching. So TFA would become a three year program. One year of training, subbing, and assisting, and two years of teaching. In the second year, these first year teachers would have the benefit of getting assistance from the new first years.
The TFA institute would become obsolete. TFA would partner with universities in their regions and the new corps members would live on campus and be enrolled in a special year-long training program. I haven’t worked out all the details, but this first year would not be easy. You want to get in ‘shape’ to be an effective first year teacher? You need to work for it. As an assistant to a second year, you will be grading papers, calling parents, perhaps even subbing for that teacher when she is sick. You will tutor kids after school. If necessary, you will cook dinner for the teacher you assist. First year teaching is a two-person job and you will be the behind the scenes person who does a lot of the dirty work so that the second year corps member can succeed. You will also be subbing throughout your city. Perhaps you have to sub twice a week. Do that for a year and you will have no trouble facing your actual classes in your second year.
I ask people who are new teachers right now: How would you like to have an ivy league personal assistant that you can order around? Who could grade your papers so you can plan lessons? How much more effective and less stressed could you be? And how comfortable would you have been on your first day if you subbed one hundred times before you had your first day with your own classes?
And, of course, the kids would benefit from this too.
After the second year, you might not be so burned out since you didn’t have the trauma that current corps members had in their first year. Perhaps TFA could entice you to do two more years. Maybe they can give some of the $70,000 that they would have used to train and support a new person to you and keep you in the classroom. These changes still wouldn’t ‘fix’ education, but at least they wouldn’t be doing the sort of damage TFA now is.
This will never happen because TFA is so attached to the two-year commitment thing, while this would require three. They claim that they did a study and that a three year commitment would scare away many of their top applicants — perhaps even people who would have voluntarily stayed for a third year after completing their second.
It’s hard to say. Back in 1991, two years sounded like a lot to me. But don’t the TFA reformers like to say that we have to stop doing what is good for the adults and start doing what is good for the kids? My three year plan would be better for the kids and for the corps members, I’m sure.
I have other things that I’d want to change too, like not placing corps members in regions where teachers are being laid off, and also trying to develop leaders who understand the difference between ed reform P.R. and reality, but I’ll save those for another day.
Anyway, that’s my idea. What do you think of it?