The original purpose of TFA was to encourage the ‘best and brightest’ to learn, first hand, about what is going on in the American education system, and then use this knowledge to help improve it.
I joined, as most people in TFA did, to ‘make a difference’ to ‘give back.’ Hopefully my inexperience in my first year didn’t serve to do more damage to the kids I tried to teach than if someone else was teaching them. It took me a lot of years to convince myself that the good teaching I did in my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years made up for whatever damage I had done with that first group. I also could rest more easily knowing that as I taught middle school math, that first year, I was only one of six teachers they had that year and that the other five (we had a ‘cluster’ system so the group of 150 kids who had me had the same other five teachers) were quite good.
After I learned how to be an effective teacher, I became critical of the TFA training model. This began in 1996 when I first (and last) worked as a staff member at the institute. Over the next fifteen years I tried everything I could to both encourage TFA to improve the training and also to spread the word about the deficiencies of this training.
Even though most people who have been through the TFA training surely agree that it is flawed, I was the lone dissenting voice for a frustrating fifteen years. This always confused me. Why was nobody else angry about this? Why was nobody else speaking up? Maybe people didn’t want to admit how tough their first years were. Maybe people worried that if they said how poor of a job of teaching they did and then tried to blame it on the poor training, whoever they were telling would think that this was just an excuse.
This general silence goes on today. Maybe TFA instilled the idea of the ‘locus of control’ so much that people are conditioned to not blame anyone else for their failures. It doesn’t make sense to me. Here’s a question I have for any current TFAer or alum: If someone close to you joined TFA and just finished the institute and you had five minutes to give them some valuable advice that you wish you had heard at the institute, what would you tell them? Unless your answer is: “Nothing. The institute pretty much covered it all.” then you know what I’m talking about.
Only recently, about fourteen months ago, did I turn my attention to the bigger issue of education reform. Before that I was content to write advice for new teachers and to write funny stories about my first year of teaching. But I had some sort of epiphany at, of all places, the 20 year alumni summit. Suddenly, it was all so clear to me: The same sort of people who had been pretending that they knew anything about training teachers had now taken charge of the American education system and were pretending that they had any idea how to make it better. Instead they were conducting a huge experiment based, not on research, but on half-baked ideas about what the cause of the achievement gap is and what the remedies are. This pretending that they know what they are doing was much worse than before since instead of just hurting the student of those first year TFAers, they were now harming millions of innocent students and teachers too. Since that convention fourteen months ago, I’ve dedicated a huge percent of my life to learning about and writing about this issue.
And it would be wrong to assume that I ‘like’ doing this. No. I’m doing this because I can’t not do it. I’ve got to speak up and spread the word since I truly believe that if the corporate reformers, who TFA has aligned themselves with, win then kids will ultimately lose: Nobody will want to be a teacher anymore and those who do teach will just teach to meaningless standardized tests so they don’t get fired. The result will be less educated students who hate learning.
Unfortunately for me, I have a special talent for understanding and writing about this topic. And, yes, I do get some pleasure out of it too: I do enjoy the bit of ‘fame’ it’s gotten me. Certainly I’ve also enjoyed finally having a ‘clique’ that I belong to after all those years where TFA shunned me. All in all, this has definitely given me a sense of purpose, but I am still looking forward to the day that this battle ends.
I’m 42 and a husband and a father of the two greatest kids in the world, a 4 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. Right around the time my son was born was when I started learning about this ed reform battle. The poor little guy has had to spend his whole life, so far, with a father constantly talking about the latest ed reform news. His first two words, I think, were “Diane Ravitch,” and his third and fourth words were “Michelle Rhee.”
This is why, for my sake, and for the sake of my wife and children, I’m asking all the current and former CMs to help me out. In the past few years, I’ve been relieved that a few other TFAers have joined in. Probably the most prominent is author Roxanna Elden, who wrote the excellent book ‘See Me After Class.’ But there are others, even on this teachforus site. Wessie, of Drinking The Kool-Aid fame has been posting with such honesty, and Tony B’s blog also. I don’t know if these two think of themselves as on the same ‘side’ as me — but I do since I think I’m just on the side of telling the truth, whatever your ‘truth’ is.
You were recruited by TFA because you were smart and ambitious and would be able to use your talents to teach, but also to analyze what is going on, after getting first-hand experience. So now you’ve experienced how difficult teaching is. You’ve seen, also, how complex the achievement gap is too. So do you really believe that the issue is ‘bad teachers’ who need to be motivated through fear of being fired or through cash bonuses? Is that really what you determined after working in a school alongside people who elected to become career teachers? Those of you who worked in charter schools, do you really believe that they are providing an excellent education to all students?
Its time for you to speak up too. Start writing about it. Make your own blog or, if you want, send stuff to me and I’ll give you a ‘guest post.’ I know it is more comforting to pat yourself on the back for having ‘given back’ to society — but if you don’t get real about how some of these ‘solutions’ will make things worse, you are part of the problem.
If you think that the TFA celebrities truly know what they are doing with the power they have attained then, well, you may be the best, but you sure ain’t the brightest.