Mar 03 2013

Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

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.

15 Responses

  1. Educator

    Interesting. I think most of the graduates usually return back home to their families and then fly out to wherever their Institute is. So, TFA would have some challenges as I don’t believe they’re in all states, so getting the substitute licenses could prove a logistical challenge. Anyhow, I know you’re just giving a general idea.

    I think another benefit would be to have the graduates substitute in high-income schools, as I’m presuming that a good majority of them come from upper-income areas and so they’d substitute in their local school district.

    I think they would learn a lot from experiencing schools in high and low-income areas all within a few weeks of each other.

  2. Linda

    Many would end it there and never continue and Wendy would lose all the finders fees. This would cut into their earnings, and it wouldn’t be elite anymore. The purpose of TFA is no longer to fill hard to find slots in cities or rural areas or close the achievement gap, which they never achieved anyway. The purpose is to find leaders to destroy public education. This won’t fulfill their new mission.

  3. The ONLY acceptable circumstance for employing TFAs is that they can only teach when no certified professional teacher is available after the requisite advertisement for same and that schools that employ these novice instructors must identify their credentials or lack of and their employment source and pay – just like certified teachers whose credentials are all available publicly on line in Louisiana. Let us not forget t hat TFA is now the tool to eliminate certification. In Louisiana new legislation allows charters to hire 100% noncertified instructors. That is NOT acceptable!

    • Steve M

      “In Louisiana new legislation allows charters to hire 100% noncertified instructors…”

      Wow, that’s simply ridiculous. Talk about both going backwards ten steps and clearly demonstrating the intent of that state’s educational “reform” efforts.

  4. Sorrel

    Well, I actually need certificated, trained, and experienced substitute teachers to substitute for me when I am out. Substitute teachers are teachers, and they perform a valuable job. I read somewhere that American students spend the equivalent of one school year being taught by substitutes. Just think about how maternity leave, sick days, professional development, jury duty, etc., add up over 13 years of schooling. Picking up the pieces after an inexperienced sub means lots of backtracking and reteaching.

    • Mathlove

      That is very different than my school district. I cannot even trust whatever substitutes replace me to keep my kids from fighting in my classroom. They cannot even babysit let alone attempt to teach. If I even leave work behind, substitutes typically bring crosswords or some other worksheet to keep the kids busy (I teach high school math).

  5. Tee

    While schools in NY may end at the end of June, schools in many other states end much earlier. Plus, much of the time at the end of the year is dedicated to testing. I don’t think this would make that big of a difference.

    • Tee

      Not to mention the fact that this wouldn’t take care of the 1000 other problems that TFA brings, other than too-little training.

  6. Mr. Harris

    At the end of the school year students are the least motivated and teachers are looking forward to the break. TFA candidates would merely occupy subbing slots that would otherwise go to ATRs and subs still looking for permenant positions. These are good people who deserve the income and opportunities over recent college grads in the TFA program. There are still few good arguments for employing TFAs. Sorry Gary, at what point do you concede this mission you’re on to heal the melignant tumor and simply decide to cut it out of the body conpletely?

  7. James

    Gary,

    I like this idea, in theory, but, in practice, it would only benefit a tiny, tiny percentage of corps members. In this day and age of economic woes, most school districts have long lists of subs — and teachers have their favorite subs. Why would districts — or teachers — want inexperienced future TFA CMs when they could have experienced subs or trained teachers (those looking for work, most likely) teaching the classes instead?

    In short, this idea probably wouldn’t work for the same reason that TFA doesn’t really work.

    Nevertheless, I would love to be proved wrong :)

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Yeah. Maybe this idea isn’t as great as it seemed when I thought of it. I also think that 6,000 CMs is way too many. If it were back to 1,000 or 2,000 this might be more feasible.

  8. Delta2010

    I was a sub for 2 years in my daughter’s rural average-performing high school while I finished my undergrad. It did nothing to prepare me for 2 horrendous years as a TFA CM in the Mississippi Delta. If anything, it gave me a false sense of my own ability to manage a classroom. If I had subbed in a Delta school I never would have walked out before the commitment was signed.

    • Delta2010

      *I would have walked out (not never)

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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