Reading the great blog posts by new corps members give me a real insight into what they are, and are not, being taught at institute. I really appreciate that these new TFAers are willing to write about their thoughts and failures, and I hope that my re-posting some of their comments does not discourage any of them from continuing to write posts.
My goal isn’t really to ‘prove’ that TFA training is very flawed, but, as a teacher, myself, to teach these new TFAers alternative ways to interpret what they have already experienced. By knowing that there even is an alternative can enable the new teachers to become better equipped to teach this fall.
The first post I’d like to highlight is called ‘We have been blessed with an opportunity to demonstrate resiliency.’ and can be found here. This teacher had a sobering experience where he/she gave a reading assignment that was way above the students’ heads. The students could not comprehend the story and, of course, failed the assessment.
When a class fails at something, it is a good opportunity for the teacher to reflect about what caused that failure. To me, the biggest lesson learned is that students will not be able to progress if their teachers don’t have a good sense of exactly where the starting ability level is so the teacher can assign things that are just a little harder than where the students are, so the students will not be frustrated and can experience some success to build from. Though this goes against, I guess, the idea of ‘have high expectations,’ the experience proves that maybe ‘have high expectations’ works better in theory than in reality.
But this is not what this TFAer seems to have learned from this. Instead he/she follows the TFA playbook to focus on ‘investment,’ another thing that I think is a waste of time at best, and counterproductive at worst.
I’ve been pulling my kids out one on one and asking them what they want out of life and out of summer school. I’ve got kids that want to be lawyers and singers and mechanics. And with each one of them, we’ve sat down and talked about what it’s going to take to get there. I’ve got a girl who wants to do social work in Uganda. Uganda! So I took these kids, and I told them all, individually, the same thing: “Listen. I see where you want to go. You can get there. I can get you there. [emphasis added] But I’m gonna shoot you straight. It’s gonna be tough. So tough. We’re going to have to work hard and focus every day. But if you can give me that, if you can prove to yourself that you’ve got what it takes to both work hard and be smart, then you can go wherever you want to go. You can be whoever you want to be.”
And you know what the crazy thing is? They believe me. My kids believe me! I can see it in their faces. They’re buying in. They want this, they want to go to college, they want to succeed. And when I hear that, it lifts me up. I get so excited.
It is hard for me to explain why this paragraph worries me so much. Of course it is good for kids to have goals. It is not that it is bad to talk about ambition, but when the teacher has picked an inappropriate reading passage that everyone failed, maybe this is not the first priority. Kids can have all kinds of goals, but if teachers think that low expectations is what got them in the hole and that high expectations will get them out of the hole, then those teachers don’t really understand. And it is the main job of the institute to give those new TFAers a realistic and practical ‘mindset.’
I also saw a very ‘real’ and revealing video on a post here. I hope that my attention to this video does not embarrass any of the participants. If they continue to make videos like this, I’d be willing to give my analysis which I hope they think helps them to be more successful. If they would prefer that I not analyze, then just let me know. In the video about twelve Delta corps members are interviewed about their experience so far.
(Note: The original video was taken down and replaced with an edited one so the times I reference will be a bit different)
I think the most telling comments were from the guy who began speaking at 3:52. His students did not do their essays so he gave it for homework. Then they didn’t do it for homework. His analysis of this is that “they’ve never had anyone say ‘hey, you didn’t complete this and you’re gonna do it again’. … No one has taught them. No one has expected them to do that.” This is an assumption about all the teachers that these students have ever had. And it is not true. Thinking it is true implies that the achievement gap was caused by low expectations, and this belief will not help someone be an effective teacher.
At 9:42 the same guy, and again I am not trying to pick on anyone here — please believe me, shows that he has really internalized the tragically oversimplified TFA mindset. “I think the biggest challenge in my classroom is investment. … getting them connect that this summer experience is about creating pathways to opportunity.”
This over emphases is so wrong to me that when I first started hearing about it a few years ago, and recognized how unhelpful that was for new TFAers, it actually was one of the very first real blog post I wrote four years ago, which you can read here.
I worry that corps members are so stuck in the TFA ‘mindset’ (Kool Aid, anyone?) that they seem unable to step outside and look at what they’ve experienced objectively and think, “Uh oh. Maybe the TFA way isn’t going to work.” It is time for TFAers to have real discussions about the limited usefulness of focusing on high expectations and investment and focus, instead, on learning to accurately assess where the students are and to create lessons that enable the students to progress a bit each day from where they were.