Dec 29 2012

The Silence Of The (Sacrificial) Lambs

Of the nearly 6,000 new TFA corps members who have just completed half of their first year of teaching, very few have posted on teachforus about how their first years are going.  I think I’ve seen about five or six midyear reflections so far.  As they say in old western movies, “It’s quiet out there.”  “Yeah, too quiet.” usually means that the quiet is not a good sign.

My theory about this is that my prediction that the poor training that the 2012 corps members got this past summer with a paltry 12 hours total of student teaching classes of about 10 kids each has led to some pretty difficult first years of teaching for them.  And as self-reflective as they are supposed to be, there is also a shame associated with this tough first year that makes new corps members not want to blog about it.  I also think that if the opposite were true, that people were having outstanding achievement-gap-closing experiences they would be blogging about it.  Either way, the lack of blogging activity on this site is, I think, quite telling.  6,000 people is a big number to be so closed-lipped.

Before they knew very much, ironically, the 2012 corps members were blogging a lot over the summer.  Now, after half a year of coming face to face with real schools and real kids, the 2012 corps members have learned so much.  They are now extremely qualified to make judgments about the causes and cures of the ‘achievement gap’ (Sorry Dr. Royal.  I know you want a more accurate term for this, but I need one that is four syllables or less!).

For instance, do you still agree with TFA that a main cause of education inequity is that most teachers set their expectations too low for low-income students and that a big step in equalizing things is to have high expectations?  Also, have you found that you are some of the better teachers in your school already?  Are you significantly better than even the other new non-TFA teachers at your school?  Are you convinced that teachers would work a lot harder if they were to get pay cuts when their students did not exhibit sufficient ‘growth’ on their standardized tests?  Finally, do you think that you would have benefited from more student teaching at the institute, or was what you got good enough?

Now I’m sure someone is going to say that I’ve scared off potential bloggers by dissecting what they wrote and critiquing them.  If that’s the case, I’m surprised that I wield so much power.  Seriously, I doubt it.  A more likely explanation is that people are scared to write the truth because they are concerned that even if they write anonymously it will somehow get ‘out’ and then their reputations will be forever tainted when potential employers one day ‘Google’ them.

Here’s my message to the 2012 corps:  You have been recruited as some of the best-and-brightest because you would be willing to apply your great analytic ability to assessing what the primary issues are in education.  After half a year surely you’ve come to some conclusions?  If you keep these conclusions to yourself, you are not fulfilling your obligation to lend your voice to the discussion.  How does that help improve American education?  Please speak up by writing your own blog posts or by commenting here.  I won’t make any promises, but I’ll really try not to be too judgmental if you say something that I disagree with.

101 Responses

  1. 2012CM

    I am a 2012 CM. You’d like to know why I (and possibly 5,999 others) haven’t spoken up yet? We’re terrified. Not of you, or of anyone at all. We are afraid of what will happen to our children if we do not “close the gap” in the few short months we have left with them. We are seeing firsthand what you and the rest of the world (TFA or not) have been discussing, debating, rehashing, and reforming for the past two decades. And it’s real now. We are alarmed by scenes we could have never imagined, playing out in the lives of children. We are determined with an urgency like we’ve never felt before. We are astonished with the circumstances, outraged by the status quo, and alarmed at the complacency of it all. We are focused on our children, on their futures, and on making each day count for them. They deserve every moment of energy we can provide. Our “great analytic abilities” are being used to dissect our classrooms, differentiate instruction, and ensure that each student’s needs are met. To be completely honest, the “big picture” just doesn’t compare to the 22 faces I teach every day. I’ll save my conclusions for another time. For now, I just want to save my kids.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Thanks for responding. I agree that blogging would be using energy that could be used in planning or otherwise doing things that directly help your students, but surely for a few minutes during winter break you could take some time to write about some of the specific issues. With this level of intensity, you’re likely to run out of energy after two years!

    • Michael Fiorillo

      All first-year teachers, TFA or not, struggle to keep their heads above water and become competent teachers.

      Hopefully, if you stay in the classroom long enough, you will come to perceive and ultimately reject the false and condescending missionary-like premises about “saving” your students, premises that have helped make TFA a very lucrative project for its 1% funders, and that are worsening the life prospects for the children you claim to want to “save.”

      • Emily

        Thanks- exactly what I was going to say!

    • Educator

      Here’s a great article by Dr. Royal, who has been mentioned before in this TFU blog, and she talks about a typical mindset within TFA to save the children.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/camika-royal-phd/teach-for-america_b_1669121.html

      She spoke to TFA Philly this year.

      http://youtu.be/ltbJFWOo7IU

      I don’t post this to attack you or anyone else on this blog, but it looks like others have raised questions about “save.” And I’m guessing they’re questioning this mindset as Dr. royal did in her speech to TFA Philly.

  2. K

    Perhaps the 2012s are busy, you know, teaching and stuff. Perhaps this site isn’t as prominent as you believe it is, and the majority of them don’t visit it. Perhaps they’re exercising discretion and keeping their reflections private, or sharing them only with people they actually know, instead of with strangers on the internet. I’m fairly confident, though, that you didn’t singlehandedly “scare them off.” You’re right that you don’t “wield so much power.” At any rate, it’s too bad they’re not fulfilling their “obligation” (?!) to blog on a particular website and provide you with material!

    • Terry

      You sound bitter. TFA not what it’s all cracked up to be?

    • Megan H

      And yet… here you are…

      I don’t take Gary’s words as offensive but maybe you do (you seem defensive in your language).

      Rather, I think he is saying that you have valuable insights and people would love to hear them! If anything, it’s a compliment.

      I am terrible at blogging myself, but I think commenting is always a great way to include yourself :)

      And like I said, here you are!!!

  3. Terry

    I know here in one small city in CT some have already left. I always wondered if the district gets the placement fee back if they leave within a month of school starting.

    To 2012 CM…you will not close the gap in a few months and despite what you have been told that should not be your priority. Get to know your students as individuals. Learn from them. What are their hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses. Instill a love of learning and a passion for reading. Do not focus on test prep and drill and kill. Do not become a Stepford drone. If you connect with the kids and immerse them in the wonderment of learning and literature, the rest will follow and you will have results. However, many spend the first year(s) on behavior management. Not sure if Wendy prepared you for the reality of the classroom. Look for the lifelong educator for ideas and support. Appreciate the teachers with real life experience who are still in the classroom as compared to those who temped for a while and appointed themselves as the eduexperts who will “lead”. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

  4. James

    ‘I’ll save my conclusions for another time. For now, I just want to save my kids.’

    ‘Save’ your kids from whom?

    • 2012CM

      I feel compelled to explain, only because so much has been discussed (and dissected) about the word “save” when associated with TFA. All I meant to say was that I’d rather spend my time focused on my students — helping them become lifelong readers, showing them a world larger than their communities, and instilling an eagerness to explore and learn — than sharing my “conclusions” after teaching for a mere 5 months.

    • UrbanLad

      Someone needs to save those kids from the kids with 5 weeks and 12 hours. Yikes! Cripes!

  5. meghank

    As someone who had a tough first year not too long ago, I would guess that any minute they are not spending at work, they are spending trying to forget about work completely. Blogging about work really just doesn’t seem like the thing to do your first year.

  6. Jolon

    “…the 2012 corps members got this past summer with a paltry 12 hours total of student teaching classes of about 10 kids…”
    WHOA… is that true?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      yes

    • 2012CM

      I taught for 5 weeks and had 18 students in my class. Most elementary teachers I spoke with had similar class sizes.

      • James

        2012CM, you were very lucky to have 18 students in your class. How, though, did you teach for five weeks? Institute is five weeks, in total, with the first of the five weeks devoted to corps member education. I’m not being sarcastic, but am genuinely curious — what Institute did you attend? How were you able to teach five weeks?

    • Educator

      It varies depending on region, school, and grade/subject one gets placed in.

      The typical CM seemed to be teaching four or five days a week for one hour each day, so that would be 16 to 20 hours total for the summer if I remember correctly. Class size was more inconsistent, and ranged from 5 students (some early elementary classes) to low 20s (typically middle school or high school summer intervention classes). If I had to guess an average Institute wide I’d say the class size average was 19.

      A typical phrase by CMs and CMAs was “we’ll/you’ll reach the same number of teaching hours in the first 4 days of your placement job than you had the entire Institute. You’ll also have much more students since it isn’t summer school, which has less enrollment.”

      Whether or not this is a good model is the subject of debate on this blog and many other blogs…

      • I don’t see why anyone bothers debating it. It’s obviously not.

  7. Gary, I’d say you hit a raw nerve. No, the first years are not going to blog, and yes they are all probably struggling, barely holding their heads above water. My hope is that at least a few of them are beginning to question what they’ve been spoon-fed. TFA’s framing and extremely politicized training and philosophy of education are probably not sitting well with some of the novices. I believe TFA is very intentional in keeping these people so very busy. It is, in part, so they do not have time to reflect properly or to question.

    The first year of teaching will always be hard. Which is why it is so insane to develop a training model where first year teachers are also taking graduate classes and the professional development they never got in advance. TFA’s model of only five weeks of preparation up front and then doing the rest WHILE TEACHING is an absolutely unacceptable way to prepare teachers. And add to that all the TFA events novices are also expected to attend, frankly, why does anyone put up with this?

    But this is the model EdReformers everywhere love so much. Overwhelmed, exhausted, exploited teachers who are too tired to speak up about the realities of the classroom. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for many TFAers. Too bad it is in law school, or school administration, or non-profits, or politics, or working for TFA itself, and not in the classroom. But in order to cash in on those profitable opportunities, TFAers must stay silent about what they see. They must remain “yes men” and then these years of turmoil will pay off. Too bad it doesn’t help kids, TFA really is all about the adults.

    • Terry

      A new slogan for TFA….that’s for adults only…kids are data and props. Go Wendy!

      • Michael Fiorillo

        Yes, kids are data – and as famous ex-TFAer Michelle Rhee soulfully described them in the aftermath of Newtown, “assets” – and we all know that data and assets are for sale.

    • Sarah Faude

      There is no question that what is said here and echoed in many other comments for this post is true. I was a 2009 CM and I too found myself in a situation I was poorly prepared for, with too few resources and hours of sleep to be anything close to the model teacher I kept hearing I was failing to be. Although blogging is not for everyone, I would challenge the suggestion that there isn’t room for overwhelmed teachers to write. In fact, blogging is what got me through my teaching. It gave me an opportunity to reflect, process, and document my evolution as an educator. I was able to communicate the painful and rewarding realities of my job, and have people say to me, “That happened for me too.” Part of blogging is joining a community that normalizes the seemingly unbearable challenges of first year teaching.

      However, to speak to the question raised in the original post, people are silent. Silence for some could be from their processing style; silence for some could be from exhausting. Silence from me came from fear. After documenting my experience fairly regularly for 2 years of teaching, I was “outed” for blogging. I was called into the principal’s office MID-teaching (in a low-resource school a substitute was placed in my classroom), and threatened. At this point, I knew that I was going to graduate school the following fall and that there was nothing in my contract that prevented me from documenting my experience. However, all I could think, while being interrogated by my principal as to why I thought I should be in a position that I had so many questions about, was that I was thankful I wasn’t a first year. If I had been a first year, I would have been silenced, perhaps forever. If I had been a first year I would have thought that intimidation was acceptable. If I was a first year, I would have learned to be complicit in a process of using education as symbolic violence against students.

      Whenever any group of bright, motivated, passionate individuals lose their voice, we need to think about what they have been told is at stake if they speak up. I knew my principal had no means of actually challenging my right to speak up or my job, but I also know that she and the charter network for which I worked had much to gain from my silence.

  8. Emma

    I’m a first year teacher (not TFA) in a low-income area and I took a graduate class, along with two professional development courses (essentially the equivalent to graduate level courses), in my first semester of teaching.
    I had ample teaching experience beforehand (internships in college and summer schools) and it was still stressful at first. After the honeymoon period, I got to the point where it is a struggle… a lot of work, lots of students and papers and meetings and classwork.

    But. That never stopped me from blogging, going on the internet, reading articles about education. Perhaps it is just because it is actually my passion, rather than a two year stint on my way to power and glory. What Gary points out is that over the summer, these blogs were powered by inspiration and high aspirations. Now that they have realized that it isn’t what TFA sold them (that they will change the world! They’re amazing and better than what’s already there!), they’re freaking out. There is a reason that so few TFA teachers go beyond the two years, let alone the initial year. I do not know personally any TFA member who lasted beyond the first year- and I went to a college in which TFA teachers are highly recruited. The two that I know as acquaintances who lasted more than one year are those who took classes in education or human development in undergrad.

    • Ted

      Emma, as a fellow teacher (in a low-ncome urban area as well), I just want to say thank you, for joining this noble profession. Your viewpoint is reinvigorating to a veteren, and one who has seen many TFAers enter and then leave his school in the last few years. Goo luck with the rest of your first year, and the hopefully many that follow.

  9. 2012er

    Perhaps 2012 CMs are using their breaks to spend time with family and friends, to reflect personally on their first semesters, to begin planning/preparation for the upcoming spring semester, and to recharge mentally and emotionally in order to best serve their students.

    Perhaps 2012 CMs do in fact read frequently about state-level and national education movements and debates, discuss successes and failures with each other on a daily basis, spontaneously fall into heated discussion about education policy at social functions, and even read this blog from time to time to expand upon their own perspectives.

    Perhaps 2012 CMs are critical-thinking individuals who recognize the complexity inherent within the U.S. education system and teaching profession, who do not blindly follow the prescribed talking points of TFA but rather hold nuanced opinions about the organization, and who, out of humility, do not want to presume an authoritative voice in the greater education discussion until they’ve had more than a semester in front of the classroom.

    Perhaps 2012 CMs have all undergone different experiences, in different regions, with different schools, administrations and students.

    Perhaps 2012 CMs have different backgrounds and qualifications, mindsets and skills, goals and ambitions, and hopes for the education system.

    Perhaps 2012 CMs are not all of one ilk, as you often seem to imply in most of your posts.

    And perhaps 2012 CMs would rather spend extra time preparing a new lesson, calling a couple parents or researching their subjects than try to craft an honest, thoughtful message so that you can inevitably harvest it as another blanket criticism against TFA.

    Sincerely,
    A 2012 CM who fits the above-description, who has found that most of his peers (not all) also fit the description, who has things he likes about TFA and things he disagrees with (like almost all CMs), whose “silence” is a product of his humility rather than his ego or subservience, who is a frequent reader of this blog, and who hopes that at some point you will speak about us “sacrificial lambs” with the same insight and nuance you apply to other targets of your criticism.

    • Ah, this.

    • Allison

      “Perhaps 2012 CMs are critical-thinking individuals who recognize the complexity inherent within the U.S. education system and teaching profession, who do not blindly follow the prescribed talking points of TFA but rather hold nuanced opinions about the organization, and who, out of humility, do not want to presume an authoritative voice in the greater education discussion until they’ve had more than a semester in front of the classroom.”

      This entire paragraph points out exactly what issues many full time teachers and parents have with TFA. Any teacher with a few years under their belt can tell you some of the complexities of our education system. But very few listen to them. Instead they listen to ex-TFAers who make recommendations based on their two years in the class room and what talking points they were fed before that.

      I’m glad that you have the wisdom and humility to keep watching what the professionals do and hope that after your “fourth semester” of teaching, you still have the humility to realize that there are people with far more experience than you who know what needs to be done.

      • 2012er

        Once again, I just want to assure you that I do not believe that TFA CMs are the only ones who fit the above-descriptions. Coming from a family of educators, I have a profound respect for those who have spent substantial time in the field. My initial post was written in response to Gary’s post, which focused solely on 2012 CMs.

        I agree with what you said, and thanks for clarifying.

    • 2012CM

      Thank you.

    • Educator

      These are all valid points, and I think the “Perhaps 2012 CMs” could also be changed to “Perhaps the 3,000,000 teachers teaching in traditional public schools…”

      • 2012er

        Completely agree, Educator. This was simply written in response to the initial post, which was directed at CM’s. Thanks for expanding it appropriately.

    • this. Allll of this.

  10. It seems like a stretch to see just five or six midyear reflections and conclude that most of the 2012 corps is “scared to write the truth.” I can think of a few reasons why:

    (1) In my experience, most CMs don’t know about TFU, much less maintain a blog here. In fact, of all the 2012 CMs I met this summer as an Institute staff member, only one had heard of it.

    (2) In general, people who blog regularly constitute a tiny proportion of the population, though it’s easy to forget this if one is constantly interacting with other bloggers (like on this website). I imagine that among CMs, with all their other time-consuming activities and accomplishments prior to teaching, this proportion is even lower.

    (3) It’s an interesting observation that more 2012 CMs blogged during the summer and early fall than now (I noticed this as well). But then again, it’s the holidays–people are probably spending most of their time with family and not thinking about work or blogging or whatever.

    (4) The number of midyear reflections doesn’t seem particularly low this year, compared to past years (specifically, the past two years that I’ve followed TFU). But that’s just anecdotal; I haven’t actually counted.

    First year is just hard, and I agree with you that some of the things TFA does probably makes it harder than it has to be for CMs. But using a lack of blogging as evidence for that seems a little contrived.

    • Emma

      I am pretty sure he is basing this post on the large number of 2012 CM blogs that were being frequently updated over the summer, prior to the school year starting. He isn’t just assuming that nobody is blogging so everybody is unhappy. He is taking all of the inspired blog posts from the summer and comparing it to the enormous drop off in posting once (he assumes) the CMers realized that everything that they had been taught was not 100% true.

  11. Just a teacher

    Well, this is from a couple of months ago, but I thought this was pretty telling.

    http://jaxjourney.teachforus.org/2012/10/27/scary-october/

    In fact, if you read through all this TFAer’s posts, they are all pretty telling–and scary. Why someone like this is allowed to still be in front of a classroom is truly beyond me. I don’t think there is one single time she talks at all about liking her students, or in fact, any good reason why she wants to be a teacher. And yet, these are the people taking positions away from those who have gone to actual teacher preparation programs. How does TFA justify this?

    • Emma

      I graduated from college recently, and I would say at least a third of the people I talked to in my senior year who didn’t already have a job or graduate school lined up were applying to TFA. They always were excited to share this with me, as I was studying education. Once they got to the final interview, I’d always ask if they were excited to teach the following year. The look on their face was almost always, “oh shit. That’s right. I’m going through this rigorous application process to teach.” In all of the hoo-rah surrounding TFA and the elitism that comes from getting in, I think a lot of people forget that that is the end goal of the process. They don’t care about kids or teaching. They care about what TFA will get them. (NOT ALL TFA APPLICANTS. JUST SOME). – clarification before I get a ton of CMs telling me I’m wrong.

    • Ms. Math

      I had LOTS of first year blog posts like that. I really did care, but to care about kids who were making your life hell because you couldn’t control them was a huge challenge. That teacher is being honest, and I think that most teachers had those moments their first year if they were in a tough place without good support.

      I don’t think that I should have been kicked out. I lived, learned and stayed in education. I think that type of post is healthy and normal.

  12. Dan

    This has been a nice reading of “Let’s all take some anecdotes and extrapolate a broad meaning from them.” There can’t be just one reason why 2012s aren’t posting on here, and even hinting at suggesting that is pretty laughable.

    Some are scared i’m sure. Others miserable. Undoubtedly there are those that are ashamed and/or disenchanted by what they have experienced. Still, wouldn’t you think that some just don’t care to blog? Whether through lack of time, energy, creative juices, what-have-you, they’ve just deemed it not worthy of their time? Or, as others stated before, they don’t feel like blogging more about work once they leave?

    Seems like a fair point to me. I completely agree that newer members should share their experiences, particularly as we will start having tons of frantic 2013s searching the internet for anything and everything to help them decide whether or not to do TFA. However, the logic used as the basis for the OP is pretty….well, illogical.

  13. Gary and TFAs – In meeting with a group of parents, teachers and education activists in New Zorleans yesterday I learned yet another of the many problems that plague our autonomous charters which in Louisiana enjoy little to no oversight or accountability from our TFA Stte Superintendent John White and his merry crew of TFA alumnae Dept. of Ed crew.

    One certified teacher warned parents that students who had successfully completed graduation required college entrance core subjects and qualified or the state TOPS scholarship program were receiving college application rejections because their math and/or science teachers were not qualified certified teachers necessary to receive credit for some of those courses. They had TFA instructors! My first question is did these charters even know of the requirement – if they did (and should have) are they complicit in misleading these devastated students?

    Se verbal parents also questioned me about the substitution on their child’s transcripts of Spanish class for P.E. when the student had not taken Spanish. This was done because either the Spanish teacher quit mid year or there never was a Spanish teacher provided. They were told by Recovery School District officials that there was a “loophole” that allowed them to do this!

  14. I remember vividly spending most of the Winter Break my first year in bed, seriously sick – and being told by my doctor that doing so was par for the course among first year elementary school teachers. I’m willing to bet a decent number of CMs are fighting off the flu.

    I also suspect that some early CM blogs aren’t being updated because that’s the nature of blogging – many blogs are short-lived.

    So yes, while I imagine many CMs are finding that their experience is not at all what they imagined, I also don’t know that you can extrapolate their disillusionment from their lack of blogging.

  15. Four quick pieces for thought:

    - Personally, I completely agree regarding consideration of online presence, but not out of fear other employers or staff will find it. For me, I was terrified my STUDENTS would find it. I was tired and frustrated with everything my first year. I didn’t want my kids to see that yet.

    -I was a blogger before I was a CM, still love it now (including blogging for TFA). I also consider myself really reflective. I never used teachforus, simply because I wasn’t a fan of the platform and had my own blog. I know a few Hawaii (where I work) CMs who have written but use another site.

    Also, I don’t know anyone else’s experience, but I didn’t really know what teachforus was as a CM, and we haven’t really shared it with our corps for similar reasons.

    - At this point in my first year, I was quiet online not because I needed to feel strong, but because I was working my butt off to restructure my class and rest/ be present with my family. Now, with my first year on staff, I feel the same way. I have a lot of reflections. I’m holding them for the plane ride home when I want to write.

    - Again, not sure about now, but when I was a CM TFA had us reflect a lot with each other, and I didn’t need to share those reflections out, simply because I had so much I knew I needed to fix and focus on (though I think I I’d, but I was an even bigger loud-mouth then). Perhaps the loud exuberance we saw in the summer has been tempered by experience?

    I understand what you say about the need to share our voice, and completely agree (I encourage CMs to share their reflections on our blog all the time), but I also want them to rest, prep for next year if the want, and spend time re-grounding themselves internally.

    And with that, back to coffee with my Dad. :)

  16. Also, I will say, based on some of the comments here, I don’t know if I would feel this is a totally safe space to reflect.

    I appreciate everyone’s passion here, including (especially?) people who don’t agree with Teach For America. It’s good to push perspective.

    Still, we all know that ANY first year teacher often comes to winter break tired, frustrated, and maybe hearing from their students/parents/ other teachers that they’re not very good at their job. That’s tough to hear, especially if you’ve been generally succeeded before.

    So, if I wanted to share those thoughts or frustrations, I’d want to do it to a friend, or in a place where the response would be “I know how you feel/I get why you feel that way… have you considered this?” and not “Well, you’re in a program that is actually ruining the world.”

    I get that not everyone here believe in Teach For America. That’s a TOTALLY valid opinion. That said, is it possible for us to have the generosity of spirit with each other to at least assume many of us DO want what’s best for kids, and are just coming at it from different angles? Without a willingness to listen, I wonder if we’ll ever be able to really talk.

    • Educator

      Agreed. I think if I was a CM I might not want to share either, or else be hammered.

      I think what’s been frustrating for many, both inside and outside of TFA, is that many of the reforms TFA alumni are pushing seem to be really hurting kids now, and hurting public education. When the TFA folks and their policies are questioned, they push back and criticize these folks as “status quo” Or, they’re viewed as “putting self interest above student interest.” But when the educators push back with what I believe are fair, valid arguments, they’re again dismissed as “they’re afraid of accountability, they only know how to criticize.”

      So a lot of folks in education wish that TFA as an organization would listen to feedback also.

      And hence, you see folks on this blog question TFA with the same passion and zeal that many within TFA have when they try to challenge the “status quo”

      • Terry

        TFA has been around for 20+ years and they wanted to close the achievement gap. Maybe they are the status quo. We have had twelve years of high stakes testing, maybe that is the status quo. That’s all they have in their arsenal…blame teachers, blame unions? Their mission has nothing to do with teaching and learning anymore..it is to build up their “leadership” forces who are ruining our schools, our profession and our communities. Take off the blinders Wendy and started listening to the real educators of the
        USA.

  17. D$

    Gary,

    I am a 2012 CM and I have been reading your blog for a long time before entering TFA. I am four years out of college and decided to do TFA for two reasons–one, I have been working in education and finally thought I could enter the classroom as a teacher, and two, if teaching doesn’t work out for me I have TFA on my resume to get a job in ed reform doing whatever.

    I love everything about your blog and really enjoy reading it. I will tell you though, I am placed at a school that, well, sucks. I have filled the shoes of former TFAers and I am the only TFA person at my school. All the teachers that teach the same classes as me ask for my stuff. They don’t do any work. I create everything. But I do this because the things I do see them create are awful. They have no sense of planning lessons in sequence. They want to teach something for one day when it should take three. But these people have kids, they have families, so I understand, somewhat. I know I would not be working this long when I have kids. These people also teach for about 10 min during a 90 min block. How do I know this? Those who have observed me(outside TFA) have said, “wow, you teach bell to bell!” Then I have TFA down my back saying my numbers aren’t growing enough; I am not where I should be in student achievement; I am a priority.

    All I want to say is screw you. I am trying my best. Everyday I come in and give at least 90%. I try everything you tell me to from cutting time during transitions to using no-opt -out techniques.

    All I do is think about test scores. It’s all my principal talks about so its all focus on. I have to. I don’t want to but this is what teaching has come to in public education, especially in a bad school. We have to prove we are a good school, which we probably will never be, I would never send my kid here.

    I don’t think about kids wanting to be life-long learners and I don’t care if they are. All I want is for the kids who sucked on the state test last year to do better this year so I can say I am a good teacher. That is all. I don’t like feeling this way but I do. I got into teaching because I really enjoy the subject I teach and I do like seeing people feel successful when they learn something and know they can do it. I don’t think that is enough to keep me in this. I often wonder what it would be like teaching in the suburbs where some of my friends do.

    I had worked in low-income schools for a few years before TFA so these kids are not jaw-dropping to me. I often struggle with what I believe is best for them and I probably do not know and never will and I will admit that to someone. I do think that schools and teachers aren’t the silver bullet in ending poverty….because it is poverty we are trying to overcome, right? Not poor education. I have read and heard so many stories and have seen all these programs made and failed so many people. AND ALL THIS MONEY POURED INTO ED REFORM AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOW-INCOME PEOPLE FOR ALL THESE YEARS AND WHAT HAS CHANGED??? nothing.

    Anyway, I usually spend my breaks thinking about jobs I can apply for after TFA or how I can get a job at a charter school after. I search job engine sites and write down organizations names that I like for when 2014 comes.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Thanks for your candor. I do hate to hear about teachers who are not trying. I’ve been at some ‘failing’ schools and have seen very few teachers like that. What do you think is the source of this? Does the administration not have the power to pressure these teachers? Are the teachers so bad that even with your better materials, they are unable to accomplish anything?
      Anyway, it sounds like you are doing a pretty good job. It is a shame that you are forced to focus just on the test scores and ignore the more meaningful parts of education. I wonder though, how typical your school is. What do other TFA teachers from your region (what region is it?) say about the other teachers?
      Also, just to make sure: that ‘screw you’ wasn’t directed toward me, was it?

      • D$

        I don’t wish to say what region I’m in. I have this paranoia inside of me that makes me think stuff I write will get back to them. But I was trained in the Delta, and to add to other comments, no one knows who you are. I remember saying to a CMA that I was reading your book, Reluctant Disciplinarian, and she responded with, “oh Gary we heard about him, yeah, he’s not good” I laughed because she seemed so out of touch with education reform and the debate around it and didn’t care. I also had 8 kids in my class during institute and felt like it was a waste of my time. Truthfully, I wish I was accepted into the residency program for teaching; I think those are truly more effective in prepping teachers. I think TFA should move to that model–one year apprenticing with a veteran teacher, gradually releasing the responsibility followed by two years of teaching.

        Back to my school. I don’t really know how the other teachers are doing compared to me as our scores aren’t shared between teachers. And in response to comments below I completely agree, I do work longer than the other teachers because I am new and have nothing to work from. I create almost everything from scratch and so it takes me more time. I would like to collaborate more with the teachers who teach the same classes as me but it seems all they like to talk abou in meetings is calculators an using them. Lots of TFA members in my region are in charters and they think they are Gods gift to the world, and sometimes I become jealous but I know the system is making them look like great teachers when they probably are no better than me and I would be jUst as effective as them if I were in their shoes.

        And no I was not saying screw you to you, it was towards TFA because they are saying I am not doing a good enough job.

    • readingexchange

      D$, your honesty is impressive. Even if you work with your students only for a short while, you can make a difference. The most important and lasting aspects of teaching cannot be measured.

      In particular, this state from you shows that you have a handle on what is really happening in the “reform” movement.

      “Then I have TFA down my back saying my numbers aren’t growing enough; I am not where I should be in student achievement; I am a priority. All I want to say is screw you. I am trying my best.”

      As a longtime public school teacher who remembers well my own struggles as a new teacher, my heart goes out to you.

  18. I don’t think Institute has changed enough to make your conclusion valid. I think the difference is that the tone on this website has changed dramatically. I loved blogging my first year, since it was an outlet where I could be honest and reflective and process everything that was happening. If I were beginning to teach now, I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to do that. Lately, this site attracts angry people who want to vent about TFA and have no qualms doing so by picking apart the word choice and attacking the character of new teachers they have never met. Even the comments on this one post are full of it – notice the teacher who gets torn apart for using the word “save” and all the people who went into angry tangents about ed reform.

    Gary, I don’t blame you for it, and don’t think you should worry that it’s your posts that are “scaring people off”. I just wish there was something we could do to make the commenters be less hateful… then maybe we’d see some of the honest, reflective blogging come back.

    • Terry

      The anti TFA comments are honest and reflective. That’s the problem…people are finally speaking the truth and critical friends has a whole new meaning.

      TFA is now taking the jobs of laid off certified teachers, so in some cities they are nothing more than scabs and their “leaders” are destroying public education.

      The tone of this site hasn’t changed. The mission of TFA has changed.

      • Ms. Math

        I bet that the first year teachers in 2012 care just as much as I did in 2006. All my comments were kind and nice and wonderful. Nobody ever said “how could someone like this be in front of children?” even though I was feeling that way.

    • Allison

      I think the word “save” is a theme among TFAers which can be quite condescending. As someone who went through a “failing” school yet still went onto a good college, I’m rather offended when a ripe college grad needs to save me from my poor, animalistic background.

      From the professional side, I find it just idealistic. Wendy is constantly quoting Stand and Deliver even though its inspiration was the first to admit he couldn’t save everyone.

      Either way, that word “save” is driving ed reformers, politics and education standards…and it has only held back our education system.

  19. Joey

    Two things. First, you overestimate what percentage of corps members are even casually aware of this website. Second, one thing you learn pretty quickly in your first year is that everyone has different experiences with some struggling more than others. Whenever first year corps members get together, it would be a major faux pas to go on and on about how well your students are doing and how in control you are since it can really make other people feel like shit. In the same way, it just seems, well, tacky, to blog on the internet about how much better a job we are doing than everyone else.

    For the record, the half dozen TFA members at our school are already producing the best results by far in our first and second years. The kids like us, we work harder than everyone else, and we’re getting better every day. I don’t need to rub it in anyone’s face on a blog.

    I think you have lost touch teaching at Stuy so long.

    • KT

      Sigh…I’ve met many TFAers who think the same way. And it’s not until years later, and only if they stick it out in the classroom, that they see the utter ignorance and hubris of their beliefs. It is responses like this that make me glad more CMs are not blogging.

      • A teacher

        Bravo! My sentiments exactly.

    • Terry

      And this is what gives TFA its bad rep. The veteran teachers are out of touch and you are working the hardest…arrogance and ignorance should be the TFA motto. Oh Joey…you don’t even know what you don’t know. Get your ego in check young man….you are a legend in your own mind.

    • One thing, Joey. It is possible you are working harder, but I want you to understand the broader implications of now EXPECTING teachers to work 14 hour days, and 7 days a week. This exploitation of the teacher work force is purposeful, systematic, and is having a devastating effect on teaching and learning. TFA has contributed greatly to this “lean production” model of education (do more with less). The modal number of years on the job has dropped from 14 to 1. ONE year of experience! See this article for more: http://jacobinmag.com/2012/09/lean-production-whats-really-hurting-public-education/

      Reform’s goals are teacher turnover, mounting job stress, shifting more and more responsibilities onto already overwhelmed teachers’ plates purposefully causing breakdowns, creating a whiter, younger, and less experienced teaching force, and plummeting morale. Schools are now places of fear and stress. TFA is an integral piece of this business model. Make no mistake, these changes are terrible for children. We must resist, not celebrate the exploitation.

    • Speaking as a veteran of teaching in high-needs schools (this is my…12th? year of teaching) AND a TFA alum, I think you should reflect on the following:

      1. What makes you say the first and second years are “working harder”? How much of that extra work comes down to lack of experience? (By the way, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that veteran teachers work more and longer hours than newbies overall.)

      2. How do you calculate these “best results”? What tool are you using? Are all of the teachers at the school using it? Has the tool in use been verified to be an accurate one that encapsulates student learning?

      3. When that half dozen of CMs leaves – and they almost certainly will – what do you anticipate placing them? If the kids like them so well, what impact will their leaving have on those students?

      Part of TFA’s problem I think is that it talks a good game about being reflective but does a poor job of actually reflecting. I’m glad you’re having a good year, but I encourage you to reflect on whether your preconceived notions of what hard work and success impact your practice. In the end, without critical self-analysis, teachers never get that good.

    • Educator

      Joey,

      I don’t doubt that you are doing great at your school, and I don’t doubt the other TFA members at your school are doing great (based on whatever standard you are using, whether that be test scores, kids liking you, or amount of hours you put in). But I believe what people on this particular blog are raising issues with is TFA as an organization and on the macro-level with what is happening to public education.

      Your experience seems to be a typical TFA experience – work extremely hard, get great results (typically based on multiple choice tests), feel great about it (and there are good things with this)…but then most leave after 2 years.

      Many of these TFA success story folks then get into positions of educational leadership or political leadership. This is where many people are starting to get worried. These superstar educators leave the teaching profession to do what they believe is more impactful work, where their skills could be used more effectively (not to mention getting substantial pay raises and status), and they create policies based on their extremely limited 2 year experience.

      Recently, there has been critical dialogue with this way of doing things. Many of the TFA experiences are at charters, and info is being published every other day it seems about the half-truths and overexaggerations that many charters promote (increasing segregation, high dropout rates, low SPED/ELL students, pushing behavior problem students out, sacrificing other important aspects of schooling like art/music, instituting a very controlled, sometimes even scary environment for students in the name of discipline/control, etc….) So these 2-year ex-TFA teachers who are now instituting policy on a larger scale are basing their policies on a somewhat false experience. This is the danger.

      Many of these reformers are saying, “Why can’t these teachers teach like me? I worked hard, had the best results, and the kids loved me.” So they’re instituting policies that try to force teachers to be like that, in the name of accountability. “If your scores suck, you get fired.”

      The problem I see is that every one of these reformers made a choice — and their choice was to not continue teaching. This is a problem, as 40-50% of ALL teachers in USA quit within their first 5 years, and that % increases at low-income schools, and at many charters, the turnover rate can even be higher (I remember reading somewhere there was a 100% teacher turnover at a school about every 4 years).

      I believe that a main reason why a lot of people go into ed reform is that they did a cost-benefit analysis, and they just see that teaching is too difficult with too little reward. And now, these reformers are instituting policies that are making teaching much more stressful and difficult, again, based on their limited 2 year teaching experience. It’s just strange to see.

      I know in my first years of teaching I thought that I was a superstar and was better than the status quo educators. This is probably true for some, but I also know I have colleagues who are superstar teachers who have taught for decades. As I dug deeper, and started realizing that teaching is so much more than the standardized tests, I started to question. I hope you and everyone else who reads this blog can question critically.

      • 2012er

        I just wanted to say that I sincerely appreciated this response [both tone/content], and I think it is even generous in claiming that most TFA CM’s are successful in their first two years (since the data, if I’m correct, shows very marginal gains or even neutrality, depending on subject). All these are fair criticisms that deserve to be discussed and, eventually, answered.

        I also like your focus on the macro-level, since I think it is hard to make any sweeping statements about TFA on a micro [regional] basis. I think TFA’s presence/influence varies greatly by region, and also by school (public/charter). However, this does not mean that there aren’t any valid, micro-level criticisms to be addressed; rather, they just require a closer look region-by-region and even school-by-school.

        This is the type of nuanced, honest response that I’ve come to expect from this blog–and why I plan on continuing to visit here frequently.

        • Educator

          Thanks for your thoughts on my post!

          I try to be nuanced, but sometimes I can’t help myself and get angry. But it goes both ways.

          I see why career educators are so upset. An organization that’s titled “Students First” basically insinuates that career educators don’t care about their students’ needs first, only their own personal gains. At least where I work, there are hardly any educators who don’t care about the students. So it’s a real slap in the face to have reform groups and politicians say that educators have it easy, and that they need to be pushed because they “don’t have incentive to change” or “are too comfortable.” I just haven’t seen this, although maybe it’s true at some schools or with pockets of educators (just like in any organization, you’ll have some not so great colleagues).

          And then I can see why charter advocates / reformers, get so upset when folks call them selfish idiots who just want to privatize education. This may or may not be true, but I know some reformy type people, and I don’t think they have this grand plan to profit off making public schools private. I know some folks would call me naive, and I’m sure there are some reformy type people who do have this agenda. But what I see is that these people look at low-income communities, and they see how terrible the students have it, so they’re trying to do something about it. (Personally, I think a lot of what they’re doing is misguided, but I don’t question their intent…in most cases.) So I see how these TFA-types, these educators in tough to educate areas, get offended when they or TFA are attacked.

          What we need is what I think Gary Rubinstein is trying to get at — a more productive dialogue. And since TFA is so very powerful with so many bright future leaders (I’m being honest here, not sarcastic), I believe Wendy Kopp and friends need to steer the organization this way in order for things to progress.

          That was my random rant…

          • 2012er

            Totally agree, and thanks for the empathetic approach. Nothing rant-like about it.

    • Michael Fiorillo

      There’s that renowned “humility” that TFA is famous for. Yet again.

  20. Many TFAers here want to assert their own individuality. They shout out how “diverse” TFA is-ironically this is the staple response-and yet you all end up saying and doing the same things. Words like “saving” or “producing the best results” slip out because that is the TFA worldview. And yes we are calling you out on it.

    Frankly, you all chose to be part of an organization that is currently doing great harm to education in this country. You were sold a beautiful vision of equality and justice through fancy and deliberate marketing, but it is based on spin and falsehoods. I know as a 22-year old, I too would have been extremely susceptible to TFA’s rhetoric.

    But you do bear some responsibility for joining (but certainly not all). I know it feels like being attacked, but understand there is good reason to attack TFA the organization. It is not out of spite or jealousy. It is because we see the broader negative impact of this organization. As first year CMs, you probably cannot fully grasp what you are a part of, it is hard to see the forest when your immediate trees require so much time and energy. I get that.

    But at some point, you must make the choice to either accept the lies TFA is selling or to reject it and speak against the organization and the broader Education Reform movement with which it is affiliated. Like Gary did. It is up to you.

    • laverneandshirley

      I am a 2012 corps member who signed up for TFA knowing how screwed up the organization was, but needed an avenue to become a certified teacher without incurring massive amounts of student loan debt, and wanted to work with the students who TFA serves. Just as this organization is using me, I am using them. While I loathe having to listen to naive, ridiculous, ignorant, and self-important rhetoric from the TFA staff, at the end of the day I see them only a fraction as much as I see my kids. So, I go to work, close my classroom door, and do what I think is best for me kids, not what TFA thinks is best. High expectations are important only in that yeah, duh, if you tell a kid he/she is dumb he/she will begin to believe it, so building kids up and pushing them to do more than they may initially be willing is kinda common sense and it’s kind of hilarious that TFA thinks this is its big revolutionary philosophy. While I was cynical about TFA from the start, of course there were some things I wasn’t prepared for, like the complete and utter lack of support from my MTLD, my school, my university, and the other teachers. I knew I wouldn’t get much help, but wasn’t quite prepared for people going out of their way to try and make my job harder or to play weird power games–spinning their own screw-ups and incompetencies as my fault, and chastising me for it. The creepy factor is much bigger than I initially knew, as well. I constantly feel like I am being talked about, like I am on a blacklist. This paranoia makes me feel insane, but is often reaffirmed when I receive phone calls from my MTLD telling me what ____ person said about me, my attitude, my personality, etc., etc. Also, the lack of emphasis on teaching and the insane emphasis on my personally is unsettling and infuriating, causing me to distrust everyone affiliated with TFA, my school, and my university. Unfortunately, everywhere I turn I feel judged, disapproved of, and gossiped about, which is difficult to swallow when I approach teaching with a huge dose of humility, knowing it was insanely draining and thankless after watching my mom who has taught for over twenty years. I can sleep at night because I know that I have helped boost my kids’ confidence, helped them see learning as exciting and even fun sometimes, and give them a relatively happy place where they feel loved and respected for a good forty hours a week. I’m just trying to put my time in until I am done with TFA and can try to be a normal teacher who does not have to play as many psychological games as I am now. :/

      • laverneandshirley

        Also, to add on to all of that, I, personally, think TFA should reinvent itself as a teacher preparation program, for college grads/ grad students/ regular working folks interested in changing careers to education, who are interested in urban ed and need an avenue to get their teaching licenses. In my dream, they would be mentored by a QUALIFIED educator, not some 23 year old jerk who sits at the TFA office, wears Banana Republic, and taught for a whole two years. TFA needs to take a huge dose of humility, scale back, and stop thinking it is in charge of changing the face of public education in this country. It has no business doing so, and the fact that TFA gets away with this is a reflection of the reality that even though Americans spew sentiments of education being the key to a great country, in reality no one seems to care since people without any kind of appropriate qualifications (ahem, Wendy Kopp for instance) wield power over so many schools in so many cities across the country. Our country needs legitimate curriculum specialists available to all schools, so that teachers can try and navigate teaching instead of coming up with their own curriculums or trying to balance Common Core Standards with whatever curriculum they have been given. I don’t know why the situation of the American teacher has remained stagnant (if not progressively worse) for so long. It’s sickening and the quality of life of even a “regular” non-TFA teacher is piss poor compared to what it could be if the weight was distributed a bit more equally amongst teachers, principals, school boards, the department of education, etc etc etc.

        • 2012CM

          I could not agree more!

        • Megan H

          I just wanted to say AMEN!

          And let you know that, for the first year at a least, I allowed my program director (that’s what MTLD’s used to be called, ugh those acronyms) to treat me in a similar way you described. She told me what people said about me behind my back, obviously to hurt me and as a huge betrayal to the person who said it.

          Legitimately, I am a lot to deal with (I’ve got all these feelings and thoughts and criticisms; I don’t willingly follow rules, though I do aim to please) and I’m not shocked or hurt that people wanted to talk to our PD about it. It’s wrong and unprofessional that she shared their confidential thoughts and feelings with me.

          I am happy to read your post and know that there are still those outliers in TFA, like I was.

          You give me hope!

          I think that TFA is totally evil but you help me to remember that there were, are and will be critical thinkers like us in the program — and I hope, everywhere.

          In my masters program there is a huge focus on critical thinkers and the ability to make connections. As the ladies I worked with on the South Side of Chicago used to say, “Real recognize real.”

  21. Edharris

    As has been noted before, the tone of the negative comments here pale next to what I have heard students say.

  22. KrazyTA

    Just my opinion: I am a little surprised that some people don’t consider TFA an integral part of the status quo that needs to be challenged and changed.

    • Educator

      Here’s a somewhat related article to what you’re mentioning KrazyTA.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/magazine/reforming-the-school-reformers.html

      I think there are signs that this is starting to happen. For example, this blog, Ravitch, real grassroots programs springing up around the nation like PAA, and more, are questioning the reform status quo. Hoewver, these groups aren’t as powerful as the reform groups, who have elite networks, a vast amount of money and political influence, and media support (the media support is starting to waver in some cities as investigative reporters start asking fair questions).

      I believe that things will change once folks like TFA folks start asking the questions, rather than people like Ravitch, Weingarten, who easily get dismissed as status quo and union huggers.

  23. 2010 cm

    Gary, I have enjoyed your posts for several years now. I think before starting in the classroom I even disagreed once through the comments section. But today I will largely agree with your post…

    My first year teaching I went into holiday break with a resistant staph infection (likely stress induced). Embarrassed and confused about my school experiences, I had stopped writing my hopeful tfa blog months ago. I was seemingly unable to facilitate meaningful learning, or even basic safety and comfort, in my classroom.

    My reflections that first year were almost exclusively directed at micro-level classroom concerns; only after my TFA experience was I able to better understand the culture of my school, Teach for America, and larger education. Your blog encourages me to get back to my own and begin (publically) sharing some of my reflections and questions from after the corps.

    Btw, still teaching and enjoy it — without some of the teaching as leadership things that were so unnatural to me and only questionably helpful to students.

  24. jill

    Reading through these comments makes me sad. I am still an undergrad, but will be graduating soon. I have wanted to teach children for awhile now because I believe that although it maybe small teachers do make a difference. What makes me sad is this apparent division between teachers and corps members. In some posts it almost seems hostile and I do not understand why. Aren’t those who enter education programs, such as TFA or another certification program, and those who have been teaching working toward the same thing? For the kids? I think that people need to stop and remeber that the kids are what is important and what we can do as teachers, corps members, or just as adults to help them. So why does there need to be this fighing if people are working for the same thing? If there is ever to be a change in the education system we need to stop fighting one another and need to learn to work together to try to figure out ways to improve it.

    • Actually jill, I know for me, I fight TFA the organization because I believe that every child deserves a fully-prepared teacher every single day of their school career. It is about equity and justice. Placing poorly-trained novices in the classrooms of the neediest children including children with special needs is wrong. Kids in affluent communities would never be subjected to uncertified novices with almost no formal classroom training nor a professional degree.

      While the TFA individuals may want to do what is right for children, TFA the organization is not acting in the best interests of kids.

    • Educator

      jill,

      I do believe that many of the corps members enter with the best of motives, and they do really care about and want to help the kids. And I do believe that traditional teachers who have devoted their lives to teaching care about kids too (some people disagree with this statement). I do think there are weak teachers, just like in any profession there are weak employees.

      This blog in general, especially the recent letters Gary has been writing to reformers, seems to focus on policy questions and questioning TFA’s program choices. Gary, in my opinion, is debating many of the policies these reformers promote, and is questioning whether or not this is best for students.

      I’ll give you an example to hopefully make it more clear. I’ll tackle the charter school movement. A narrative of charter school proponents is “same students, same neighborhood, better results” (They usually don’t mention that results = better results on standardized test scores only, by the way, which is a separate discussion entirely.)

      Recently, Michael Petrilli, a conservative pro-charter policy writer, confessed this isn’t true:

      http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2013/the-charter-expulsion-flap-who-speaks-for-the-strivers.html#body

      So why do I bring this up? If everything was about students-first, why do many pro-charter folks, from both the left & right, claim “same students, better results,” when it’s not really if you did deeper. This raises some suspicion.

      So then let’s take a look at why someone like Gary and other people writing here may get upset. This false narrative of “same students same results” influences powerful people, like policy makers, state assembly politicians, school board members, the USDOE, hedge fund millionaires, and more. These powerful people make choices based upon these claims, and some of these choices may negatively affect many people, like traditional teachers, schools of education, principals, and children, as their schools get closed, and as folks get fired, based on these “no excuses” schools.

      So why can’t folks like TFA pro reformers and others (perhaps unions and people who respond to this blog) just stop arguing and work on ways to improve education? I actually think they can, and this blog is one way to do it. It is calling out and analyzing what is being communicated in the world in ed policy.

      But remember, TFA has to protect its interests also. Charter proponents too. It’s their livelihood.

      Folks who want to privatize education also have to communicate a certain narrative that U.S. public education is failing. (One must convince the public that the private sector can improve what government provides first before turning a profit.)

      Many educators support the narrative that poverty is hugely challenging to overcome, and they promote other measures to improve education (that usually cost a lot of money).

      So back to the question – why not stop fighting? Yes, the tone could be better at times. However, education policy fights are no different than fights in Congress. There are varying ideologies, varying self-interests at play, various lobbying groups at play (charters, unions, etc…), various billionaires with no education experience at play, etc…
      and each group has a certain narrative to sell, and each group benefits if they can convince enough people that their narrative is correct.

      It’s up to each of us to decide what we actually think is best for children and then try to influence people with power, for the benefit of children. And it’s up to each of us to decide the role of public education in America.

      Many educators, and now even TFA people like Gary, are on this blog questioning TFA’s role in this.

  25. Olivia

    There’s no reason why it needs to be this hard. I quit after my first year, and I’ve never looked back. Best decision of my life. I’m now working and living in Washington, DC and about to enroll in a graduate program I actually want to attend (instead of the one TFA tried to force me to enroll in and pay for). It’s not too late! There’s a whole big world out there, full of job opportunities that are not utterly ridiculous on every conceivable level.

    I think a whole lot of CMs stay in their positions because of the endless TFA guilt trip, as if your first 2 years out of college are supposed to be some kind of hunger games survival-of-the-fittest. It really doesn’t have to be like that.

    For people who are in decent schools with decent support, good for you. But I know for a fact that many situations out there are crazy and, quite frankly, not conducive to emotional and mental health. At a certain point you have to look around and judge for yourself if continuing is the best option. For me, it was not. Glad to be out of the cult!

    • Educator

      I don’t think it’s only TFA laying a guilt trip. Depending on which state you’re in, it’s the way the system is now: If you don’t perform via high test score results, then you must suck. Any other reason is an excuse.

      Teaching is just simply hard. (40%-50% of teachers quit teaching within their first 5 years in general, and this includes all levels of SES schools. In low-income schools, the retention rate is even worse.)

      Now, if the goal of public education is simplified to raising multiple choice standardized test scores, it’s even more difficult to do that especially in low-income schools. Although I think there’s some use in standardized tests, I believe it’s misguided now and being abused. Why are we trying to get our education system to look like South Korea’s when South Korea is trying to get their system to look like ours in the U.S.A.? (The South Korean government understands that test scores don’t produce creative innovators and leaders.)

      So the question to TFA for me is…I understand that you believe there is a human capital problem in teaching. (Hence, TFA recruitment of leaders from about 250 top colleges in the nation, if I remember correctly.) But even many of these hard working leaders struggle. And they are among the top leaders and hardest working people! (I’m not being snippy here, I do believe TFA people are extremely hard working and they’re leaders.)

      So is the fix a human capital problem (not finding enough good people to teach in low-income schools), an accountability problem (not being able to fire bad teachers & principals quick enough), or something else, perhaps poverty and out of school factors problem (kids in poverty/abuse/violence tend to be harder to education), or a combination of everything?

      And if the answer is that it’s just a human capital problem with not enough stars entering this profession, how can the U.S. public education system attract more of the higher performing cadre of college graduates, to make this a career? Or, is the plan to grow TFA large enough to convince enough people in the nation to commit two years to teaching in the most difficult of places to teach?

      Or should we focus on how to improve teaching, support teachers, and support the millions of public K-12 teachers? If I was in college now, I highly doubt I would go into teaching given where teaching has headed in this last decade. It’s sad for me to say.

  26. Hi, Gary,

    I’m a first-year teacher and a New York City Teaching Fellow. In short, the accidental mantra that has emerged from my cohort is this: “we have all been set up for failure,” the ‘emerging teachers’ and our students. I’ve written about it here: http://thinkingoutsidetheschoolhouse.com/2013/01/21/nyctf-retention-resignation-and-despair/

    Personally, my heart is broken because I feel called to be an educator but this beginning has been so…devastating, I do not know how to salvage it and move on.

    –Another beaten down fellow

    • Anon.

      I had a similar experience (as do many). I was skeptical of TFA from the start having had significant experience working with low-income students before starting, but enrolled to avoid the cost of grad school and the daunting task of securing a good job after college. One of the biggest gaps in TFA training is lack of a true mentor teacher.

      I am currently working at a national child serving non profit and planning to go back to school to get my MAT. Initially after leaving my job and TFA, I felt as though my goal for becoming an educator would never be realized. I did however, come to terms with the fact that if I owe it to my students to be as prepared as I can which for me means taking the time to reflect and gain a breadth of experience. In a recent interview for a MAT program, I met with the program director who was a career changed and did not begin teaching until well into middle age with a long career already under her belt. It is VERY doable.

  27. Just a teacher

    I read kalisaddhu’s post in the link, and it is heart-wrenching, no doubt . . . BUT, and I am sorry to say it, I just don’t feel very sympathetic. The author says, “I feel called to be an educator but this beginning has been so…devastating, I do not know how to salvage it and move on.” If this is so, then why did s/he decide to go into the profession by way of a quickie summer boot camp? I’ve never heard of anyone who felt “called to be a doctor” think they could do it by participating in a six week summer program and then being placed in a setting where they had the full responsibilities of a doctor. Likewise for every other professional.

    kalisaddhu: I’ll tell you exactly what to do. If you truly want to be an educator–not an administrator, not an educational reformer, but an actual, in-the-classroom educator–apply to an education graduate program, and put in the work that the rest of us had to. Take the two years, the practice classes, even student teaching, and LEARN what has to be done to become a teacher. Then, get a job, and work at it. Don’t expect to just be placed in a school and be excellent right away. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear, and it’s probably not what you are used to, if you are like most Ivy League TFA-types (I assume the NYCTF program is similar to TFA in terms of who is accepted to do the program), but it would give you the background that clearly NYCTF is not giving you.

    • I’m working on precisely that. The main issue is funding. Already I have 60K in student loans. The fellowship is just that–funding for an MA program. I didn’t write this post to garner sympathy. I didn’t accept a position in the fellowship to become a reformer, or an administrator. It was a second choice–and the only affordable one available at the time. I was admitted to Teacher College’s MA in TESOL program but simply could not foot the bill. I would absolutely LOVE to do what you are suggesting–a traditional approach. I am not suffering from a lack of humility. I am working with a lack of funding.

      • Megan H

        RE: Just a teacher

        I had similar feelings myself about a traditional program vs. TFA. When I took education classes as an undergrad they were so boring and easy that I switched to a politics major where I felt much more challenged as a student. Then I joined TFA (to become a certified teacher) and realized (naively) how shoddy their teacher training program is.

        Now I am at Teachers College in NYC and only because my parents pay my tuition and I take out loans to pay my bills. If I did not have their help, I would not have gone back to school and would have done the masters program through TFA (which was just AWFUL). So, to Kalisaddhu’s point, money is a HUGE issue when becoming a teacher.

        What I’m noticing now in my TC classes is that everyone who has done a “Traditional” route to teaching has zero clue about what really goes on in a classroom. Their perspectives are naive and they know it — most of the professors focus more on theory and idealistic classrooms and creating your own curriculum than actually teaching students what it is like to be a teacher in the classroom (where you are given a curriculum and have to learn to implement it and circumvent it to do the wonderful projects, etc. that excellent teachers are able to do).

        I would be interested to see a model where student teachers take over full time, without the support of another teacher in the room. Maybe this makes people nervous, but this is what happens all the time when traditionally certified teachers enter the classroom after finishing their program — and they feel just as clueless as TFA teachers do.

        Unfortunately, no amount of schooling can really compare to the raw experiences offered by TFA and the teaching fellows program. And it is those experiences, for me, that have helped me to really get the most out of my masters program at TC.

        What I am finding is that, in my program at least, they are NOT preparing teachers, they are preparing doctoral students.

        • Just a teacher

          I only have experience with Queens College, which was pretty hands-on. Obviously there is a bit of “pie-in-the-sky,” ivory tower mentality, as there is with most of academia, but most of my classes were more practical than theory. I wonder if it’s a Teachers College thing; it is an Ivy League place, after all! I really wonder why all those in NYC who are so concerned with the costs don’t go to the various CUNYs that have ed programs. It’s not free, but it’s far less expensive than TC is going to be.

          • Yes, I went to a good state school for my ed degree and it was very practical. We did a lot of theory, too, but it was grounded in practice. I think often the fancier university names don’t have the better colleges for producing well-prepared classroom teachers, perhaps due to a greater focus on policy and research.

          • Megan H

            I think you are both right (Just a Teacher and Parus)! I taught in Chicago for three years (the first two in TFA) at a head start and then decided to move to NYC. I applied to TC, NYU and Fordham. Now having lived in NYC for 6 months I know way more about Hunters College and the City and State schools, and am considering switching, though I don’t know if it will cost me more time and money to do so.

            TC is definitely interested in research over teaching, though that doesn’t apply to all the professors.

            The good news is, because of this program at TC, I have found a wonderful District 75 school in Manhattan where I hope to work one day.

  28. Just a teacher

    Good. Good luck, then. By the way, CUNY might be a more affordable way to go. I know Queens College’s graduate ed program was always well respected, and perhaps other branches (Brooklyn? City College? maybe) have similar programs.

    • Megan H

      I know a lot of people who have also gone to Hunter’s College

  29. Not TFA

    My particular area thrives on TFA. Our school received 4 new recruits this year. From my observations they know very little about management or being a teacher. Hearing screaming from their classrooms on a daily basis is how I would prefer not to spend my days but I do. The sad thing is, they are clueless that they are terrible. They belive that they are “saving” the kids. That attitude right there is why they are not fit to be teachers. We don’t save, we facilitate growth. We lead them in the right direction.

    • Stacey

      Great summary, Not TFA. I have seen enough newly graduated teachers come into the classroom after four years of training and “experience” and freak out, lose their classes in the first week from the attitude of wanting to get to know them (friends) more than teach them (students.). I can’t see how the amount of training TFA offers can at all give new teachers the tools and skills that need to be practiced in a less accountable environment before they take the future of our children in their hands. I think most new teachers need MORE supervised teaching experience, not less, to be really effective.

  30. KitchenSink

    This discussion is farcical. Clearly a lot, or even the majority, of TFA CMs struggle. Some, or even many, gain a level of mastery and stay in the classroom, go on to start schools, etc.

    The problem is not that some TFA people have a hero mindset and aren’t reflective enough to realize that their lack of skill isn’t helping kids who are underserved by the system as a whole. I think TFA is wholeheartedly aware of this phenomenon. It is dismissive of the status quo of teaching in the communities where TFA places teachers. While there are good teachers in these communities, generally there are more flaccid excuses than examples of inspiring, powerful educators changing the trajctory of students’ lives and families.

    The problem is that people comfortable with the status quo (like Michael Fiorillo who wants to protect generous, defined benefit pensions regardless of the value of employees while they are teaching, at all costs) are incredibly disrupted by TFA’s injection of energy and a little honesty into the system.

    The honesty being, “This school and that teacher are not serving the students well and that has to change, now.”

  31. This is quite a conversation that I take quite seriously. If TFAers think that the traditionally trained teachers are in the same position they are, they are sadly mistaken. For most, there is a huge difference.

    The difference between the TFAers and my Teacher Candidates when they are first year teachers is supported clinical experiences.

    At my university, Our Teacher Candidates have various tutoring experiences related to course work their first two and a half years in the program, then the second half of their Junior year, they are placed in schools for two days a week with a carefully selected mentor teacher and have monthly visits from a University Supervisor who collaborates with the Cooperating Teacher and the Teacher Candidate. In addition to intensive course work in pedagogy and content, the Teacher Candidates attend twice weekly seminars throughout the semester. We consider this time for teacher candidates to develop disposition for teaching and develop membership in a school community with full realization of what this means.

    The first semester senior, pre-student teaching experience is quite intense. Teacher Candidates are in schools four days per week with a mentor Cooperating Teacher and increasing develop, slowly picking up teaching responsibilities and executing other roles as a professional educator. One day a week is left for associated coursework and seminar. Each group develops a strong co-hort where peer collaboration benefits cognition of teaching, as well as teacher reflection and decision-making to impact student learning. These teacher candidates devote approximately 60 hours to week or more to their teaching, in preparation for the realities of teaching. The Teacher Candidates University Supervisor visits at school every other week throughout the semester, collaborating with the Cooperating Teacher in supporting the Teacher Candidate, and fostering professional growth and developing independence.

    Finally, the second semester senior year is an 18 week Student Teaching experience during which the Teacher Candidate is placed with a Cooperating Teacher, however takes over the full teaching responsibility with support and eventually, independence. Visits from the University Supervisor continue on a biweekly schedule.

    I just want to be clear that much of the bias of the nature of traditional programs is not true. Many, many so-called traditional teacher education programs at universities are rich in clinical experiences to allow the first year teacher to be fully ready to teach.

    • KitchenSink

      What you describe seems fairly typical (to me) of teacher prep programs. However you describe the inputs. Do you have any idea how well your candidates are prepared once they actually enter the classroom? Student teaching is miles from head teaching.

      I would definitely agree that traditionally prepared teachers are more competent and stable in their first year than TFAers. But with the right conditions, I’ll take a mix of TFAers on my team as well.

    • D

      As a pre service teacher in a traditional program, I benefitted from years of practical and theoretical knowledge that my professors offered. I was lucky enough to have mostly retired schoolteachers who had earned advanced degrees and taught in my university because they just wanted to. I am also blessed enough to have gone to a school where the head of the Curriculum Department read the state requirements wrong. We were in classrooms 75 hours every semester from the first semester sophomore year until the end of our first semester senior year. Most of us also participated in an internship as Chicago Publc Schools Summer Fellows. Finally, the last semester, we student taught.

      As I said before, years of theoretical and practical training. I had trouble my first year, but it wasn’t with the children or their families. It was all politics. I never learned to play the game till I was in it.

  32. Another2012CM

    2012 CM here. Let me share this.

    The good: I love my students. They are incredible. I love my subject and and know it well (better than my co-teacher). History is absolutely my passion in life and I’m so lucky to be teaching it. The teachers at my school are accepting and helpful- TFA and the others. I’ve never felt different for being TFA. My students ask really great questions. They don’t always relate to what we’re talking about but my goodness we have wonderful discussion. I’m not teaching a state tested subject- less pressure.

    The bad: My students are incredibly frustrating. I love them but can’t engage them often enough. Not that I blame them. We test so much that these kids hate school. My management is bad. No, my management is terrible. The BMC doesn’t work and I won’t get physical with kids. I haven’t done a great job of sharing my passion for history with my students. I am tired. My administration does not like TFA. My kids don’t respect me. My MTLD is my age exactly. They taught for two years at a school that is much more functional than mine. I was once told that I needed to “work relentlessly” because that is why TFA hired me. This was at a point when I was exhausted for working harder than I ever have. Thanks TFA!

    Realizations: I was right to be skeptical of TFA (mostly because of you Gary). I do not want to be a teacher- here or at any other school. My students deserve someone better and more passionate than me. Will that person come here to teach? Debatable. We already have three long term subs where we couldn’t find qualified teachers- TFA or otherwise. My natural teaching style suits college- definitely not middle school.

    Looming Questions: Do I stay or go? I committed for two years- to TFA and my school. I honestly don’t care about TFA at this point. My principal is counting on me for next year though. We have an extremely high turnover rate among all teachers so getting two years is pretty awesome. I’m sure I’ll be better next year- though my better won’t be “transformational”. Or do I leave because I know this isn’t for me? I already feel somewhat guilty for coming in the first place.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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