Jun 24 2012

Same problems, different year

Looking over some of the new corps members blog entries, I’m struck by their enthusiasm despite their revelation that my biggest critique of TFA over the past few years is still valid in 2012.

Student teaching classes are ridiculously small.  In Mississippi I read a post here where they have just 11 students, and one here where they have just five.  Comments were disabled on both of these posts so I couldn’t ask them how TFA might be rationalizing the fact that they are being denied an authentic student teaching experience that will cause their actual classes they teach in the fall to suffer.

I also read a post here by a corps member in Oklahoma who matter-of-factly states “Although my fall placement is to teach high school English, here in Tulsa at Institute, I’m teaching rising fourth graders to read.”  At the end of this post, this corps member concludes an analogy involving gymnastics with this “My role, as the teacher in this process, is to instill the desire for transformational change–to alter the trajectory of those whose opportunities have been blighted because of setting the bar too low for them.”

What I get from this is that TFA is filling these corps member’s heads with lofty aims while not providing them with a opportunity to develop the skills to be effective.

Teaching a few fourth graders is completely different than teaching high school.  This corps member will first encounter a student over the age of 10 when he or she shows up for work the first day of his or her actual job.  This makes me kind of angry.

What I’d like to know is how TFA is keeping the corps members so blissful when they should be irate.  Are they saying that 4th graders and 9th graders aren’t all that different?  That kids are kids and that what works for the immature 4th graders will work for the ‘easier’ and more mature 9th graders.  Anyone who has ever taught 9th graders would laugh at this.

How are they supplementing the training for people who will be teaching a completely different thing in the fall as they are in their student teaching assignment.

 

18 Responses

  1. Meg

    I have issues with Institute subject placements as well but am a bit more conflicted about class size. On one hand, teaching a class of 13 (that was down to 7 or 8 by the end of the summer) did not prepare me to walk into my classrooms of 35 in the fall. Where I hesitate, though, is that CMs at Institute are not effective teachers, but summer school counts for these kids – for many of them it’s the difference between failing and passing a grade. While I think the majority of classrooms would have more learning taking place in them if led by FAs, I think the students learn more when an inexperienced teacher has 8 kids to manage than if they have 30. So I guess in terms of teacher preparation it’s not helpful, but I think it’s one of very few things done at Institute that is in the interests of students (though I do NOT think this is why TFA has small classes).

  2. left TFA, still a teacher

    What they said when I was there was basically- teaching is teaching. lesson planning is lesson planning. Once you can do it in one place, you can do it in another, the skills are essentially the same. (which of course they are not, but these institute teachers have no idea what they are coming up against).

  3. Ms. Math

    Yes, TFA puts people into situations where they are going to have a really hard time succeeding. But I’m not mad that they did this to me.

    I realized years after TFA was over that my students were put into a school where they had a high chance of failure. My students failing algebra still believed they were going to college to be doctors. They didn’t have any of the real support they needed to reach this goal.

    It hurts really bad to be told you can do something by TFA or your parents or your school and then be put in a position where success is almost unattainable.

    But, I don’t regret doing TFA and failing hard many times. I learned so much about failure and the world that I never would have learned if I’d been instantly successful. Some of my students were better off because I was there. Some of them got math and physics degrees in college and I know they used what I taught them. Some kids who misbehaved came around and tried. It wasn’t a huge success, but not an abject failure. I don’t think my kids would have been better off without me. No one else who was available to teach at the school knew pre-calculus.

    TFA must know that they are telling new CM’s that they can do so much even though the reality is that most really struggle. I don’t know if they are doing this so that we learn what it’s like to be on the losing end of the system.

    It would be better if we could recruit people to wonderful teacher preparation programs and give them all of the knowledge I’ve been learning in my graduate program-but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    • MV

      So why can’t they recruit people to teacher preparation programs? Or run a similar program in house? Other than the fact that they DON’T WANT TO?

      One of the primary restrictions to getting a diverse teacher core is money. I had to pay to do this. It’s not cheap (both in tuition and a year of no income). There is no shortage of qualified people.

      I recently completed an alternative route certification program. This consisted of two months of intensive classes during the summer, then three months of classroom experience in the classroom I would be teaching, then student teaching. I can’t imagine teaching 9th graders without this preparation. I certainly wouldn’t have liked less. Yet TFA is entering my state (with no shortage of teachers) and provides even less preparation?!?

  4. Katie

    Gary, as much as you name Institute as one of your chief criticisms of TFA, I haven’t seen a lot of independent research into what Institute’s about these days. It seems like you’re getting most of your info from panicked corps members’ blogs–which isn’t exactly Grade A source material!

    Are you reading any of the teaching materials that corps members are provided with? Are you looking at the class sizes and daily schedules of corps members?

    Some quick debunking of some random facts and numbers that were thrown out here: all Oklahoma CMs have a class size of 20+. Because TFA doesn’t want to give first-year corps members special treatment over more experienced veteran teachers, no corps members know what they’re teaching yet–it’s all going to be dependent on district needs in the fall. So this “high school placement” teacher with a 4th grade classroom is kind of just making some things up: maybe s/he really wants to teach high school, but there’s no guarantee. And before you step in to say “They don’t know what they’re teaching? What poor preparation they must be receiving!”–would you rather have TFA teachers given cherry-picked position assignments, with traditionally trained and more experienced teachers left to scrounge with the remaining jobs that are left?

    In any case, I just happened to know that two of the things you mentioned here–class sizes and inaccurate placements–are just not based in fact. That’s not your fault, bloggers must not be giving you the hard numbers, but you should know that if you want to give persuasive criticisms, they need to be based in fact.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      It is, I agree, tough to get accurate statistics since it’s not like TFA releases them. Last summer I did a survey which got many responses about what the average class sizes were in the different institutes. I suppose it is possible that they ‘fixed’ the problem with the small class sizes. I will do another survey this summer and find out.

      As far as placement goes, that’s another mess. Why don’t the outgoing TFAers just give their jobs to the incoming ones, like a tag team kind of thing? If the principals love the TFAers that much, they would be happy to replace the outgoing ones with new ‘fresh’ ones.

  5. Interesting

    Actually Gary, most of what you said is exactly true. i am in the Delta right now watching small class sizes and ALREADY placed and contracted to teach high school in the fall teachers teaching in elementary school. Many of them.

  6. James

    Gary,

    Yes, TFA does just say that ‘teaching is teaching.’ And that the resources aren’t available to provide differentiated training for everyone. At least that’s what I heard last year from an MDI.

    Good analysis.

  7. Hi Gary, sorry to chime in so often here, I know I’m not an alum, but all these debates fascinate me. What is most troubling to me is reading the new corps members’ blogs. I am baffled by how completely convinced these new CMs are that student’s low performance is entirely due to “setting the bar too low”. But I nearly lost it when I read this blog from Chicago http://unityinvariety.teachforus.org/2012/06/25/first-day/ saying “I don’t think I will ever understand how another teacher can sleep at night when they know that they are doing their students such an injustice.” It seems like all the newbies are convinced that school outcomes rest solely on the teacher’s shoulders.

    These novices really have no idea about the roots, the scope, or even a basic understanding of what the problems in education really are. Is it Teach for America that is perpetuating the faulty ideas that it is poor teachers and low expectations that cause schools to struggle? Where are they getting this from?

    I suppose it angers and hurts me so much because, as I’ve shared on this blog before, I see everyday just how debilitating and damaging poverty, trauma, abuse, neglect, violence all are on children’s lives. (I work on an inpatient psych unit in Chicago and my students have serious mental health issues often as a result of concentrated poverty. See the movie the Interrupters for an idea of the pervasive and growing violence in my city.)

    I’m sorry, but that kind of naive hubris is unacceptable. I was naive too, when I first started teaching, but never like that. Does this writer know that Illinois is dead last in terms of regressive school funding (the neediest schools get the fewest resources)? Do they know that the CPS BOE has made of policy of starving schools in order to shut them down and turn them over to private charter operators or turnaround companies? Do they know how youth violence is on the rise in Chicago thanks in part to these school policies? Do they know that Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the whole country? Do they know anything at all about the history, cultures, neighborhoods, or backgrounds of the kids and communities?

    Sorry for the rant, but I am mad.

  8. Oh, and one question. A teacher friend of mine told me today that 5 TFA folks showed up in his classroom this morning. He’s pissed because now his summer school kids will be some TFAer’s guinea pig (his words, not mine). And just for the record, this guy is a phenomenal teacher. Is this normal? Do the summer school lead teachers usually get some say in whether TFA folks are in their classrooms? Aren’t they usually notified in advance? Was this a fluke?

  9. Frederika

    What makes me angry (really, more like annoyed) is vapid, hyperbolic, meaningless statements like this: ““My role, as the teacher in this process, is to instill the desire for transformational change–to alter the trajectory of those whose opportunities have been blighted because of setting the bar too low for them.”

    WTH? This is incredibly disrespectful, uninformed, and unsubstantiated rhetoric. Jeez. Who are you? Have you really just permitted some trainer/mobilizer/staff person to open your head and fill it with this kind of drivel? Paybacks are a bitch. Your comeuppance will have its day. Not wishing you a bad time, but just wait until you try to transform, bar-set, and reframe the “trajectory.”

  10. hopeless.

    My institute experience this past summer consisted of teaching three students with three other CMs. We taught middle school English. As for my placement? K – 6 special education. My first day I was handed nearly 40 IEPs with no prior adequate training or assistance. How should this be allowed? Needless to say.. my mental and physical health is deteriorating.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I think it continues to be allowed since TFA has somehow planted into the CM’s minds that all the problems are the CM’s fault. I really feel bad for you, having to go through with trying to teach with virtually no training. Imagine how much better you would be doing if you did student teaching for a few hours each day with a full class. I’ve been public about saying that I think that 5 weeks of training ‘could’ be enough if it were the appropriate 5 weeks which, sadly, it isn’t. Feel free to post updates about how you are doing. If your health depends on it, you are not doing anyone a favor, certainly not yourself, by not quitting. It’s a personal decision, of course. I didn’t quit when I probably should have — look what it turned me into!

      • Oh and Gary, for special education, and for teaching younger children, I would argue that five weeks, even the best five weeks, will never be enough time. You need at least a year, maybe two, minimum, to practice working with students, understanding appropriate behavioral/academic interventions, learning about different types of disabilities, writing IEP goals, working with families, and getting experience in multiple settings (inclusion, self-contained, resource) and with multiple age groups. (Most Sped teachers are certified for K-12 and to teach any disability.)

        Actually, I don’t believe five weeks is enough time for anyone, but especially for Sped.

        • Tee

          Agreed. Five weeks is never enough time for Sped.

        • Gary Rubinstein

          Katie, Definitely no TFAer should ever be a lead teacher for special education. As far as 5 weeks, well, middle or high school is possible, I think, but only if the people actually train in middle or high school. For elementary, I’m thinking more time is needed.

    • Dear hopeless,

      I echo Gary in saying, please know it is not you! The amount/type of training TFA gave you is unacceptable plus you should NEVER have been given 40 IEPs. An average caseload is around 12. As a trained Sped teacher, I would refuse to service 40 students. The school needs to hire at least one, preferably two, more Sped positions. If you are in a union, I would also file a grievance about the work load and if parents are upset with the sped services their child receives, they should file a lawsuit. Frankly, TFA has some serious nerve placing a completely unprepared novice with those children.

      Lastly, if your mental health is suffering to the point you are falling into depression or having thoughts of suicide, please seek help immediately. If it’s that bad, I would also quit immediately. Know that it was not you who failed, but TFA and this school who set you up for failure. And then, when you’re ready, speak out against the school and TFA. This type of nonsense must be exposed or it will continue to happen to fragile children everywhere.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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