Jun 09 2012


A new blogger called bottlecap on this site called ‘Insert Witty Title Here’ has written an interesting post about the experience so far at induction.  It seems that TFA is going heavy with the ‘ice breakers’ and getting people in touch with their feelings.  Already, new CMs are starting to get a little nervous about whether TFA really knows how to make the best use of the short induction and training.

I’ll be interested in reading this blog throughout the summer to learn how much of training is based on these kinds of exercises.  Perhaps it is just an induction thing, but I doubt it.

As ‘data driven’ as TFA is supposed to be, have they ever done any experiments to see if this is truly the most effective way to produce competent teachers.  With 9 institutes, they could easily create a control group, let’s say Houston, where they try to get practical on the first day and don’t waste time with trying to get in touch with your inner-child (who might just be a racist).

I hope my endorsement of this blog doesn’t get this bright and brave blogger in any trouble.  I think she is not complaining, but just ‘reflecting’ the way TFA wants people to.  She also is clear that there are people who are getting really into this amateur psychology team-building thing.

15 Responses

  1. I remember this stuff from Institute back in 2001. I think the point is to get CMs – most of whom are from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds – to think about poverty. The questions about feelings are intended to assess whether the CMs understand how poverty or lack thereof impacts expectations and outcomes.

    Given the general institute environment and the lack of economic diversity in the Corps, I think these exercises are likely to make poverty seem exotic and alien, not make CMs more able to think critically about class and its relationship to their practice. Indeed, all the talk about how it makes you feel might nullify its impact – if you feel badly about your privileges, then your heart is in the right place. But this just feeds a sense that the two years in TFA are a CM’s chance to “save” the poor or “give back”. The mentality is itself classist and not likely to challenge your own privileges and their impact on your practice.

    At the time, I remember thinking that race and linguistic diversity were being conflated into poverty and not being sure if that was by design (TFA believes class is the major driver of inequity in education) or by omission (TFA doesn’t not feel it could facilitate discussions about race).

    It’s a tricky issue, and good evidence why a five week training period is not enough. Preservice teachers who will teach in high-needs schools do need to understand that race, class, and privilege impact their practice, but the ability to reflect constructively on the issue requires being able to survive in a classroom. If the CMs had been teaching already – say, by doing a residency program – these icebreakers would be more fruitful and critical.

    • The year I did Institute, there was a section of the coffeeshop near our housing that pretty much became WTF Central for low-SES background and ethnic minority CMs. You could reliably go there after a “diversity session” and just mutter “what the f***” and have everyone understand exactly what you meant. Even when TFA was basically factually correct about stuff, they still approached the topic of diversity like, “Hey, folks, it’s time to talk about the Exotic Other!” It was like they were describing the school communities from the point of view of the author of a 1970s National Geographic article about rainforest dwellers or something.

      I’m curious about how TFA is handling this stuff nowadays, based on the…interesting…blog posts here from some incoming CMs.

  2. True Thing

    Much as I cringe at team-building exercises, touchy-feely discussions and ice-breakers, I recognize their function during Induction (isn’t that just the worst name? No, it’s not the WORST name. “Round Zero” is the worst name). Looking back after having endured this year, though, what bothers me is the utter lack of realism or sincerity in any of this inducting. The over-arching narrative of Induction (and Institute) is that lazy and/or cruel traditionally-trained teachers are responsible for the achievement gap (the evil, purple-sweatshirt wearing, veteran teacher in Ms. Laura’s story, anyone? “You are a stupid child who will never amount to anything! Mwahahahah!”).
    I wish that mentors and leaders had “been real” (one of my favorite TFA-isms. “Can I be real with you for a minute?” Does that mean that you’ve been fake with me every other time we’ve spoken?) with me during Induction so that I could have been prepared for the challenges of teaching at a very tough middle school. I have not encountered lazy teachers. I have, however (and admitting this is against everything Teach for America every tells you is ok) encountered some very badly behaved kids. Kids who are going through unimaginable challenges. But badly behaved kids nonetheless.
    I wish that Induction had been about visiting regular schools, not the bright, shiny, militaristic Achievement First academy where students are anathematized if they misbehave. I wish that I had gotten an inkling of the kinds of behavior challenges I might encounter so that I could be one step ahead of the game when students threw things at me. Instead, Induction was full of pleasant-sounding aphorisms.
    I’m leaving the corps after my first year, and I very much appreciate Mr. Rubenstein’s healthy criticisms of Teach for America. I am still fully behind TFA’s mission, but I think the organization could benefit from loud, public criticism (why is criticism of TFA largely nonexistant), which might spur some soul-searching and maybe cause TFA to fix its implementation issues.

  3. Tee

    On an unrelated note…I’ve noticed a few new bloggers talking about how they’re proud to say they’ve drank the kool aid. I really have to wonder if they realize the significance of the kool aid reference, and just how sick and twisted the event to which they are referring was? The whole thing is just extremely ironic to me.

  4. daltongoodier

    As someone who just finished Induction (and will be getting on a bus to begin Institute in 5 hours), I have to say that all the supposed mushy gushy stuff has actually had a phenomenal effect on the new CMs.
    As a result of Induction’s programming, we as a group feel excited, optimistic, and ready to begin. We’ve developed a sense of chemistry and there are bonds being formed that will be extremely helpful once the going gets rough.
    All I can say is that right now, I am having fun. I haven’t slept but I am so excited to start tomorrow. And that’s not to say that I’m not realistic about the tremendous challenges ahead, but I am less intimidated knowing that I trust and care about my colleagues. I know that this isn’t about the CMs having fun or anything of the nature, but Induction cultivated in us a sense of joy that has inspired me to work harder than I ever would have otherwise.
    I think Induction has served myself and my fellow CMs extremely well.

    • James

      Glad you feel that way now…just wait until you’re at Institute. Your opinion will change…trust me.

      • Can we save the dramatics? Many corps members actually enjoy Institute and grow even closer to their region-mates during those intense five weeks. If you are/were a CM and that wasn’t your experience, then I feel for you, but please don’t presume to know what others will go through.

        • James

          Fair point — that was extreme language for rhetorical purposes.

          My reasoned message is the following: having both been a CM and worked at Institute as well (and having done both of these things in two very different places and at very different times over the past few years), it is highly problematic that so many CMs go from LOVING Teach For America at the beginning of Institute to being incredibly frustrated, exhausted and disappointed with the organisation after, say, a couple days of Institute. That is a problem. No, TFA is not working to fix that problem — nor would TFA even admit that the preceding observation is the truth, which, I would argue, it very much is.

  5. not a cm

    I bet part of the disconnect between people loving and hating all the mushy gushiness is the disconnect between extroverts, who feed off the energy and sharing etc. and perhaps are more willing to overlook/look past the problematic bits, and introverts, who get exhausted and overwhelmed and thus are more likely to get disillusioned with the Kool-aid and be critical.

  6. Vi

    Hey James, why not give folks like Dalton the chance to make up his own mind as to whether induction or institute is useful and helpful for him rather than just assuming what their opinion will be? I know that Gary’s blog is a bit of a clubhouse for folks who don’t agree w/ TFA, but that doesn’t mean that positive experiences are wrong, should be devalued or chalked up to a phase that will wear off. Everybody gets to have their own experience and that’s just fine. It might be the case that you had a negative one- that’s totally your right and your experience. It doesn’t mean that you’re smarter than folks who had a positive one.

    • James

      See my comments above, please. Also, I never said or implied I was smarter than anyone else posting on this very important blog. I think, indeed, TFA does many things very, very well. Institute, however, is one of TFA’s biggest failings, and it is shameful that TFA refuses to — if I may borrow Wendy’s favorite word — ‘transform’ its training program.

      • Vi

        Fair response, James. Thanks. Will be interesting to hear this year’s group of CMs’ thoughts on what works and what doesn’t work at institute.

  7. bottlecap

    Hey Gary!
    haven’t been on in a while because… well life is crazy but just saw this and wanted to say thanks for the shout out. I read almost all your blog after I got accepted to TFA and it has been incredibly useful. I shall try to keep updating mine as much as possible. Too tired to say more but thanks again!

  8. TFAmom

    Kind of a long story but because we live in an urban area, my child has an IEP and special needs, my child goes to a district where TFA institute is held. So now I find myself no longer an alum but also a TFA institute mom! I’m flying incognito and no one knows I too was in the program in the 90′s. I definitely have mixed feelings. There are some great things-a small class size, 3 CM’s plus a lead teacher and a TFA coach running in and out of the room- can’t beat the individual attention he’ll receive. Plus they are sooo nice and energetic and seem to have a much better attitude about inclusion than the district personnel I’ve dealt with. Kudos to them! But one funny story I had to share: I had to drop off his lunch on day 1 when cm’s took over, I stepped into his 1st grade room to drop it off quickly but managed to hear. “Now what does hard work look like?”
    It was so classic TFA indoctrination at its finest!

    • Gary Rubinstein

      It is good for the summer school kids, which is something TFA lists as a ‘pro’ to the training model. That is funny about what that CM said to the 1st grade class. I never taught 1st grade, but it does seem pretty abstract and developmentally inappropriate.

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