Jan 05 2013

I Love The Smell Of Test Prep In The Morning

Teach For America recently launched a new initiative to recruit military veterans to become TFA teachers.  With the catchy slogan “You Served For America Now Teach For America,” this campaign has gotten attention in various news sources like The Huffington Post.

Just the way college students do TFA as a way to do something ‘good’ before going on to their eventual profession — or even, for some, becoming career teachers, military veterans are in a similar position as new college graduates.  Now I don’t want to seem like a Grinch or anything — and I’m willing to compliment TFA when they do something smart like, for instance, the ‘teach beyond two’ campaign — but this idea is very, very, unenlightened.

If military veterans want to become teachers, and I’m all for that, what is the benefit of doing it through TFA?  These military veterans might make very good career teachers and the TFA model implicitly encourages ‘churn-and-burn.’  The training is so short and poor that people get burned out, often before they even complete their two years.  Why not a program that would suit the sort of commitment and patience that these soldiers have and which might train them in a way that could encourage longevity?

While for 21 year old recent college grads the allure of the very short five week training and the two year commitment is a big selling point, I would think that the military veterans would have much more patience and would not be scared away by a longer training, even a full year of training, if that was the way to most likely complete the mission of becoming a good first year teacher.

I also see some big problems if enough military people attend the shoddy training.  These veterans have gone through a boot camp in which they got an appropriate amount of training and specific training in what they would be asked to do in battle.  Nobody is trained to be a ground troop and then told at the last minute that they will instead be a paratrooper.  But in TFA people train to be elementary teachers and then get switched to high school at the last minute.  Will the military people accept going into battle so unprepared like that?

Now TFA might be banking on the hope that the veterans are well trained to follow Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which states that:

“Any person subject to this chapter who—

(1) strikes his superior commissioned officer or draws or lifts up any weapon or offers any violence against him while he is in the execution of his office; or

(2) willfully disobeys a lawful command of his superior commissioned officer; shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, and if the offense is committed at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.”

So if TFA is fighting a ‘war’ against the achievement gap then disobeying could actually lead to punishment by death, well, then these veterans are unlikely to question the ‘authority’ of their trainer who taught for two years.  But notice the word “lawful” in article 90 subsection 2 — this is there because if an officer gives an “unlawful” order then not only does the soldier not have to obey, but obeying can actually get the soldier in a lot of trouble.  Thus the “I was only following orders” defense, which there is a lot of precedent for not being a valid defense.  So if a group of soldiers starts to get the feeling that they are not being trained properly I can envision them staging some kind of a mutiny.

Just as it should “unlawful” to send soldiers into battle without proper training, it is just as bad to send teachers into the classrooms without proper training.  I’ll be interested to see how these vets respond to the chaotic mess that is the summer training.

"What kind of training?" "Diversity training, Sir!"

8 Responses

  1. A teacher

    You have to find new ways to rack up the finder’s fees. What does Wendy get for each placed member? $3,000?

    Besides the starting salary and benefits and the lack of training, it actually costs more to get a less qualified teacher while those who are certified and have a degree in teaching can’t find jobs. Huh?

    Wendy is nothing more than an overrated, overpaid Edushyster headhunter.

  2. rstanton

    Good title. I thought the post was going to compare test prep to napalm. But this is interesting, too. The military’s great virtue is its emphasis on training, readiness, qualifications, drills, simulations, inspections, specialization… It’s just about the complete opposite of the minimal training in TFA that you so persistently criticize. My years of experience in the military turned out to be excellent preparation for a teaching career.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    Wendy don’t surf!

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help adapting my favorite line from the movie)

  4. Michael, I really did laugh out loud at your variation of that line.

    But, I think we’ll run into trouble comparing the movie’s characters to current apocalypse participants; there’s too many teachers, both TFAers and ‘traditional’ teachers who are thinking ‘they should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.’

  5. Michael Fiorillo

    Dan,

    Yes, the analogy may not be perfect, but I just couldn’t help myself.

    On the other hand, I think Gary is (as usual) on to something, since corporate education reform, as exemplified by TFA, is a kind of “imperialism comes home to roost” process, overseen by “the best and brightest,” and employing a “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” mentality.

    “The horror, the horror…”

  6. A teacher

    Gary,

    Do you suppose there may be some type of tax credit in this for Wendy? Offering jobs to vets?

    Always an angle for $$ for Wendy.

  7. Music Teacher

    I like how you think that soldiers with a wealth of experience in the area of incompetent leaders, are less likely, not MORE likely to question authority. However, it won’t be the bad kids or lack of methodology that sends them packing. Ultimately they’ll leave teaching for the same reason they left the service – the idiocracy making the rules.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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