For the first 19 years of my 21 year struggle to help TFA improve, my issue with them was quality of the training for the new corps members. It has been frustrating since sending untrained TFAers into the neediest schools is unfair to the kids and also unfair to the corps members. As the organization has expanded, the training has actually gotten worse since there are so many trainees and not enough students for those trainees to get a realistic training experience. So you see institutes where corps members teach for about 12 hours total with classes of ten students or less.
Just as you wouldn’t want to fly in a commercial plane where the pilot had never flown a plane that large before, you wouldn’t want students, particularly the ones who need the most help, to be taught by a teacher who never stood in front of a full sized class.
And it might surprise some people to know that I do think, at least for middle and high school, that it is possible to get people in OK shape to teach in a short period of time. But I don’t think that TFA has made an institute that maximizes the short amount of time they have.
Well, I came up with a major improvement which would be fairly easy and cheap to implement and would, I’m sure all current corps members will agree, improve the preparedness of future corps members by at least 200%. This idea is so simple that I really am surprised I haven’t thought of it sooner.
OK, so here it is:
The big issue is that training happens over the summer, just when students in most places are not in school anymore. TFAers teach tiny contrived summer school classes and never get to teach a ‘real’ class where they can grapple with discipline problems and with learning how to handle a class. Consequently many, if not most, waste a lot of energy dealing with management issues.
Now most colleges end in May, while institute starts generally in July. My idea is that everyone accepted into the corps is mandated to get their substitute teaching license for middle and high school and to sub from the day after they graduate college until the end of June when the school year ends in most places. I believe that you just need to be a college graduate to get a sub license and perhaps TFA could use their connections to get all the paperwork done before the new corps members graduate so that they can be ready to go right after graduation.
When I think about my own first year and how after about a month if I could have just gone back to the beginning of the year, I would have been a lot more successful (and suffered a lot less P.T.S.D.). Subbing in a middle or high school gives someone a chance to practice making a first impression with five full classes of new students every day.
Another benefit of this is that by the time the corps members got to institute in July, they would have a much better understanding of the realities of the classroom. They would not fall, so easily, for TFA’s famous lie that low expectations by teachers is a large part of the problem in schools and that high expectations are half the battle in making ‘transformational’ change. As subs they would have experienced the way that students respond when they feel that something is over their heads.
Yes, I know that some institutes begin in mid or early June. Move those starting dates up. And yes, I know that some people’s colleges don’t end in mid-May. Those are pretty small details. This idea would cost TFA nothing and would definitely make the new corps members way more prepared.
Over the years I’ve offered other unsolicited advice to TFA. They never take it.