Jun 22 2013

“those teachers are failures”

It is nearly July which means that it is the time of year, again, where I offer my unsolicited, and generally unwanted, analysis of some of the blog entries by the newest cohort of TFA corps members.  I generally take a lot of criticism for doing this, even from people who regularly read my blog.  Mainly this is because people don’t understand my intentions or because they don’t believe that my intentions are what I say they are.  So, for the record:

I am not trying to pass judgement on the CMs, themselves.  I am using their writing as a window into what is / is not being taught to them at the institute.  My primary purpose is to show the deficiencies in the TFA training which can help others, especially the bloggers whose posts I’m writing about, be aware of them.

The most reflective bloggers are generally not offended and upset by my choosing their blog posts as examples.  One of the best blogs on this site is called ‘Middle School Hero.’  Last year I featured one of his posts about his first day of teaching in the fall.  Afterwards instead of being upset he wrote a post thanking me for taking the time to offer feedback.  We even correspond, from time to time, through emails.  Others aren’t so thrilled about my writing about them.  There are even a few people who have stopped blogging altogether after I’ve featured them.  Last year I critiqued a CM who then publicly responded and thanked me in this post, but then never wrote again.  This past fall, a blogger named Yo Teach wrote a post called More Unsolicited Advice for 2012ers:  Don’t Let Gary Rubinstein Bully You. Which I responded to in a post called I Am Not A Bully.

One of the more interesting new blogs to appear this year is called Teach Houston.  This CM has the handle ‘houstonheart’ and, just as I was placed in 22 years ago, is assigned to teach middle school in Houston.  In her first post she actually mentions me by name as one of the bloggers that she has read and who has influenced her.  Also she expresses very clearly that she welcomes feedback.  So for those overprotective readers, I hope that you will take this into consideration before you start blasting me.  Maybe wait to see if houstonheart is offended before you get offended for her.

So the post that caught my notice was called “Everyone you see was once someone’s student.”  Here is a passage from the original post:

At one point, we drove through an extremely low-income area of Houston. There were so many people outside – loitering, dealing drugs, or just passing time.  The 2012 CM said to us, “everyone you see was once someone’s student.”  Every adult in this world struggling to be self-sufficient and struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle was once someone’s student.  And those teachers are failures.  There is so much wasted potential in this world; if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them,  it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.

Now it is not clear if the text after the quote that the title is based on is a summary of what the 2012 CM said next or if it is houstonheart’s beliefs.  Either way, it is worth analyzing.  Someone must have pointed out to houstonheart that the sentence “And those teachers are failures.” was too judgmental and accusatory so she edited the post so it now reads:

At one point, we drove through an extremely low-income area of Houston. There were so many people outside – loitering, dealing drugs, or just passing time. The 2012 CM said to us, “everyone you see was once someone’s student.” Every adult in this world struggling to be self-sufficient and struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle was once someone’s student. And for whatever reasons, societal or in-school based, structural factors or individual factors, circumstances didn’t align such that that student was able to succeed. There is so much wasted potential in this world; if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them, it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.

OK, so I can hear the lynch mob getting ready to say “She changed the post after realizing that what she wrote did not accurately represent her views.  Why are you scrutinizing the original draft?”

My answer is that the implications of “those teachers are failures” is still evident in the edited version, as it would be even if that one sentence had been originally left out completely.  The updated sentence actually contradicts the rest of what remains unchanged.  Even the title of the post “Everyone you see was once someone’s student,” a quote from a 2012 CM who was driving her around the streets of Houston, implies this.  And the unchanged last sentence, “if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them, it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.” certainly implies that not one among the fifty or so teachers that one of these adults hanging out on the street corner once was a student of actually cared about them and that they all gave up on them.  While these adults certainly were all many teachers’ students once, they were also sons or daughters, members of some kind of church, most likely, and interacted with so many other people for a lot more time than each of their teachers have.

Now maybe I’m being particularly sensitive since it is quite possible that, having taught in Houston from 1991 to 1995, that I was one of those teacher ‘failures’ who taught some of those adults.

As part of TFA’s diversity training, they have CMs “examine their assumptions” about different categories of people so the CMs can “own” their, sometimes subconscious, prejudices.  I encourage houstonheart, and all new CMs really, to add to your list of minorities you need to ponder this about, career teachers who have previously taught your future students.

Teach For America appeals to people who, at least on some level, believe that they can make a bigger impact on students, after five weeks of training, than the ‘average’ teacher has accomplished.  Otherwise, why join TFA, just to continue the ‘average’ thing which hasn’t been working, right?  In many ways, TFA survives on the perpetuation of the stereotype of the uncaring average teacher.

And, as houstonheart points out in her first post, she is just one person and not representative of all the new CMs.  Still I see this sentiment come up in other posts — the idea that ‘the problem’ is that all those other teachers did not care about the students.  Most recently is from a new blog that just appeared called Uncomfortable in TFA, which had this quote:  “This past week has been the most upfront and realest form of discrimination/inequality I have seen. How the hell have these children been promoted to the 2nd grade when they are performing so low? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they are held to ridiculously low standards.”  I don’t know if this is something that TFA is actively teaching to the CMs or if it is just something that CMs have in common which made them want to be part of TFA.  Is it something that comes up in TFA training sessions and gets debated, or is it something that is presented as a fact?  If any new CMs care to comment, I’d appreciate it.

And to houstonheart, I hope that you were sincere about wanting feedback and even criticism.  Posts like this are meant to educate four audiences:  the general public, other new CMs, the TFA organization, and you.

45 Responses

  1. Jack

    Gary,

    BELOW is a post I wrote almost one year ago (6-25-12) in response to a TFA-produced video where a newly-minted CM, 3 days into her summer school teaching, vented her anger at the veteran teachers who failed her—wrongly and unfairly, in my opinion, as you will see BELOW in my commentary about this CM’s remarks that I shared at the time.

    (NOTE: she was subsequently scrubbed from the TFA video a few days later, as a re-edited version omitted her testimony.)

    This was included in your article: “THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING” at:

    http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/06/25/the-power-of-negative-thinking/

    I would suggest o back and re-read that Gary’s article and the comments—mine included—that were shared in response to Gary’s article.

    Here’s my comment: (which I stand by 100%)

    – — – - – - – -

    Gary,

    After watching this video, I’m a little dismayed at the arrogance, presumption, and implied veteran-teacher-scapegoating displayed by the Ellen Page-look-alike at 5:28. She says that she’s “angry” and “frustrated” at the fact that her summer school students lack the ability to do percents, multiplication, long division, etc.

    So who or what caused this problem?

    Well, according to this 23 year-old, she knows for sure—after her first 3 days ever as a teacher, and just 3 days of being acquainted with these students—that it’s the the “school system” and the “individuals”(veteran teachers) who have failed them, and thus are provoking her to “feel angry for the first time… not anger AT them, but anger FOR them… ”

    Who or what implanted this conviction as her immediate default mindset when she’s faced for the first time ever with academically deficient students?
    The Institute? The Institute’s instructors? The Institute’s literature, training videos? What?

    Now, it’s possible that these students may have had one or more bad teachers, and that this reality played a part in their to have to attend summer school. However, why does she instantly assume that this is the first and only possible explanation and/or the appropriate initial response of an educator in her shoes?

    I have taught summer school, as well as off-track remediation classes (“intercession”) at year-round schools (which are the equivalent of “summer school” at schools with a year-round calendar).

    Like this CM, I was faced with children who were not on grade level in their reading, writing, math, etc. … and guess what? My first knee-jerk reaction was not rage and finger-pointing at their teachers (educators whom—in the case of Ms. TFA—she has never even met, and of whom, she has no direct knowledge whatsoever… of their effectiveness, dedication, hard work, passion, etc… or any lack thereof on their part, as I fully concede that it’s possible the kids’ teachers may bear some responsibility for their academic problems.)

    Unlike the CM in this video, I actually was familiar with these students’ teachers—brilliant, hard-working educators, by the way—and consulted with them before and during the the weeks of summer school (and its year-round equivalent). Believe it or not, I discovered that the fault did not, in any way, lay with their teachers.

    So then what WERE the factors that led to their sitting in summer school, and not outside playing like their classmates—you know, (SARCASM ON) the ones who weren’t “failed” by their veteran teachers, or were able to somehow overcome their lousy veteran teachers and yet still manage to do well? (SARCASM OFF)

    (I mean, if it’s incompetent teaching that led to these kids being there, why weren’t these kids’ entire classes, or the majority of their classes also inside in my classroom?)

    Well, some of my students were… well… they were simply not as bright as their classmates, and some even suffered from mild learning disabilities. No matter how hard the teacher and students work, there is a limit to the academic progress these kids can make… though I made sure to do whatever I can to help them reach their potential in the few weeks I had with them.

    Some came from homes and neighborhoods of such dysfunction and soul-killing poverty that it would blow your mind, or fill you with…

    … anger…

    Yeah, THAT is where some of MY anger WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE focused, but I don’t want to get into that here. Like Ms. TFA, in some cases, I felt “anger for” these students, not “anger at” them… but, as I’ve just stated, I had a different focus for some of that anger.

    In addition, some of them had missed from 30-60 days of school. In this case, unlike Ms. TFA and her reaction, I did “feel anger at” these students, or more specifically, at their parents for their chronic truancy, as well as the impoverished conditions that often is the cause of truancy—i.e. having to babysit younger siblings, etc.

    (As Gary and others have written about, consideration of such negative influences such a chronic truancy, poverty, gang influences, etc. are verboten at TFA, as they conflict with the “No Excuses’ dogma that pervades that institution.

    Gary, weren’t modules dealing with this once included, but later dropped from the Institute? As I recall, the reason was that it caused some privileged CM’s to write—in their course evaluations—that such considerations depressed them or made them feel guilty? Yeah… my farts make more sense that anyone who says or thinks this.)

    And yeah, some (a minority, but definitely SOME) of those kids brains worked just fine, and thus, could be out riding bikes with their similarly-gifted friends.

    Unfortunately, during the regular school year, they simply were defiant, lazy, disruptive in class, and just plain determined to do as little work/learning as possible in the classroom, let alone complete any of the homework assigned to them.

    On that point, here’s a great article from a summer school teacher (not me):

    http://www.laweekly.com/2007-08-16/news/ferris-bueller-s-off-day/

    In it, there’s a great quote from one of his students:

    “ ‘It’s not the teachers’ or principal’s fault if students don’t graduate. If we’re lazy and don’t do the work, it’s our fault,’ said Samantha, and her sentiment was repeated dozens of times.”

    You cannot force apathetic, defiant children to care about school and apply themselves. Similarly, you cannot force their parents to care about school, and work with teachers in enforcing such requirements as finishing homework, studying hard on tests, attending school.

    When it comes to kids bound for Summer School, both the students and their parents are informed months ahead of time—i.e. as early as the preceding Fall—that, if the kids don’t make a 180-degree change, they will be attending summer school next year. Very often, in spite of these multiple warnings throughout the school year, neither the parent nor the student does a damn thing in response.

    Does that mean the teacher “failed them”, and should be the focus of some 23 year-old novice teacher’s “anger”?

    Come on!

    In one case, I telephoned the father of one of my more uncooperative summer school students. I got this response—the same one that this parent had earlier given to his child’s regular teacher. Before slamming the phone down, he screamed at me:

    “LOOK JUST DO YOUR F—IN’ JOB AND DON’T EVER F—IN’ CALL ME AGAIN!!!”

    At that point, it’s “GAME OVER”… for this child, at least. He knows he can do nothing, and learn nothing, and no one will hold him accountable. (while, of course, his teachers WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE… but that’s another story.)

    My advice to Ms. TFA is to contact the teachers of the children in her class—I’m guessing this is both possible and allowed—and try and get input from them as to what strategies she can use to reach them, what their strengths are, what their weakness are, what their parents are like, the best way to approach those parents while enlisting their collaboration, etc. …

    Who knows? Perhaps those teachers are as bad as she assumes. Then again, perhaps they’re not.

    She should do the same thing with her students’ parents.

    (Also, if the subject of this post is, indeed, reading this, I want you to know that I mean that “Ellen Page-look-alike” line as a compliment as, in the opinion of many—and it’s also the premise of the new Woody Allen movie she’s starring in—the real Ellen is quite a hottie ;) )

    Peace.

    Jack

    • Sellario

      Enjoyed your comment.

      • Jack

        I appreciate that. However, you’ll never be able to understand my reaction fully because the segment containing the CM’s comments to which I’m referring was edited out of the video the next day.

        During her testimony, she alternated between tearing up and fulsome rage misdirected at the veteran teachers that she automatically assumed had failed her students. It was quite a spectacle. I spent an hour responding to it.

        I wonder why she was cut out. Was it because she complained and asked? Or was it because she was so obviously off-base and made TFA look so bad that TFA honchos demanded it?

        A year later, I hope “Ellen Page-look-alike” is older and wiser… and doing well.

  2. Maggie Peterson

    There is something else implied in both of the citations you include. The CM’s you cite reveal a belief that “caring” about students is the same thing as actually teaching them. The last CM you quote also espouses what is, in my opinion, a common TFA trope, that a real, caring, belief that your students CAN do better makes them actually DO better. Even in TFA policy actions, standards are touted not as a goal for student achievement but as some magic tool for attaining high student achievement. The idea that students will achieve, or move out of the cycle of poverty solely because of caring teachers and teachers who hold students to high standards is also a belief that there is little else to be learned about the doing of teaching.

    • KrazyTA

      Maggie Peterson: you nailed it!

      Believing that strong wishes and desires can overcome any obstacle of any kind in any sort of circumstance is not only unrealistic but can lead one to fail to rethink one’s actions and the fundamental assumptions/guidelines of those actions.

      And here’s just one example: a high school student I once worked with whose hero [I mean that literally] had just gotten out of San Quentin after serving 15 years for committing a serious crime. To be clear: not a miscarriage of justice; the student knew his uncle had really and truly done hard time for a real crime.

      The uncle was living with the student and his family [big surprise, huh? couldn’t find a job with a serious felony so couldn’t afford to live on his own]. The student spent more time with the uncle than he did at school. And the uncle wasn’t setting a good example either, or providing wise advice to an impressionable teenager.

      What to do, what to do? School staff and even a few students tried to help him in every way possible, but turns out that when you spend more time at home and in your neighborhood with family and friends than you do at school, that can often influence young people a lot more than what caring school staff and peers do and say. **I bet they don’t cover this sort of thing too much in the 5-week training sessions since ‘no excuses’ and ‘great teacher in every classroom’ covers every exigency.**

      The odds were against us but no one gave up on him. We all did the best we could but in real life, not Rheeal life, there are no magic feathers, no silver bullets, no panaceas. You work together as best you can with coworkers and students and parents. And it’s not just for a year or two or three, then abandon the community and the school and the students and drop out to get on with your ‘real’ career, but you go on and on matter how difficult and complicated it gets.

      “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” [Thomas Edison]

      Inspirational slogans are fine, but education is not a hundred-yard dash but a marathon.

      :)

  3. meghank

    When they see how little support K-2 teachers in urban environments have (no assistants, large class sizes), and how much bureaucracy they are forced to go through with (time spent having the children recite “objectives” due to the new observation framework, hours of time-sapping “testing” per week, etc.), and all of this in addition to the children’s coming from homes that do not nurture a child’s natural curiosity, I think they will no longer blame the teachers for the low performance of second grade students. Or, at least, they shouldn’t, if they consider things logically.

  4. parus

    I find the idealism kinda charming, actually, but I am baffled when I hear these kinds of comments from new CMs in areas where TFA has been for eons. What kind of mental backflip is required to think that yet more TFA is the solution to the problems they’re seeing?

  5. parus

    http://kaylakahn.teachforus.org/2013/06/17/88/
    This post before the edit was also a good example of this phenomenon. It reads “Now I understand why people drop out of TFA during institute. But i will stick it out because i am passionate and dedicated to change the lives of children.” Now but before it was something about weeding out the people who aren’t passionate or dedicated. I think back on why some of the folks I know who quit during or shortly before or after institute ACTUALLY quit, and I have to wonder where these strawmen come from.

  6. carolcorbettburris

    I am appalled to learn that TFA would roll through any community pointing out human beings as though they were tour guides pointing out sites. It is an insult to the community, perpetuates “us and them” thinking, and reveals a practice more suited for a cult than a teacher preparation program.
    When my husband was a teacher in Brooklyn on a few occasions he had students who came to class less than 20% of the time and who did no schoolwork, say to him “you failed me, mister” . I guess they heard the conversation on the TFA tour.

  7. edharris

    The 2012 CM said to us, “everyone you see was once someone’s student.”

    And everyone you see has a mother and father.

    I hope to be able to add more about the lost student my wife and I have tried to help.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    What TFA should be saying during those drive-arounds – where, presumably, the windows are rolled-up and the doors locked tight while they observe neighborhood residents as if they were specimens – is that “everyone you see is an elected official’s constituent, a citizen and human being, and has been failed. And those officials and the people who bankroll them are failures.”

    But TFA can’t say that, because to do so would call into question its agenda and funding. So instead, we get misdirection and scapegoating of teachers,, followed by attempts to remove the statement when they were called on it.

    This is an organization whose arrogance, condescension, class antagonism and dishonesty are in its DNA.

  9. Woefully Underpaid

    Hey Gary. I posted the comment (not deleted) that none-too-kindly lambasted houstonheart for her statement and led her to revise.

    Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the revision because it’s true. If nobody cares about a person, chances are they will give up on themselves. What teachhouston will learn as she actually becomes a teacher (and what I said in either my deleted comment or the new one that is still up on her post) is that, as a teacher, you will not be that person for every student for a variety of reasons including the fact that not every person you want to help wants help from YOU even if they want help. Sometimes the person who cares is a parent, guardian, coach, pastor, friend, babysitter, sibling, neighbor, or social worker. Sometimes it’s a teacher. Yes, the post is still problematic, but amidst all of the TFA kool-aid, I was impressed by houstonheart’s ability to reflect and at least allow room for the idea that TFA doesn’t know everything and often flat-out lies because, yes, this is something actively taught by TFA.

  10. LHP

    As a long-time veteran teacher whose inner-city school does suffer from staffing problems, I would like to thank you all for trying to accomplish something worthy through your service with TFA. I want to thank all the new corps members, and especially ALL the new bloggers. I’m a real “school nerd”, always have been, and I waste my time reading education blogs. I especially want to thank Gary, whom the new corps members will likely appreciate much, much later, as the difference that time and experience make is profound.

    Gary, thank you for not only NOT drinking the kool-aid, but for trying to warn others not to, and for trying to help those under its influence to see reality. For the current corps members, please try to wrap your heads around the FACT that many, if not most, of the teachers at your troubled school are competent and care about the students. Like me, they may have been their school long enough to have taught the parents of their students, who also suffered from the same aspects of what we call generational poverty. Try to understand that many of the children that you will love are not interested in loving you, and they may never care anything about you, even though you care about them. There will be many students with whom you will build deep bonds. Be professional and remind them that true friendship will exist when you are peers outside the world of school. Learn to embrace failure, because it will be your constant companion. You may never recover from your early mistakes. That’s okay–you’ll never have another first year. You will have a better idea of what to expect from day to day. You may, unlike me, succeed in avoiding the tendancy to over-correct your second year. It took me three years to get it just right and another two developing my craft. Then I traded a relatively upscale school, with only a few difficult neighborhoods for the inner city by way of the alternative school. I had to learn a whole new way of being a teacher. I can’t imagine being a new teacher at my school. Yet we continue to get the young ones straight out of teacher college, and more recently, TFA corps members, not all of whom have fulfilled their commitments. It is a very difficult school, after all.

    So to all of you who have backed off blogging, please consider adding your voice to the mix. For all of you who participate, thank you from an old teacher who still has the fire in the belly that brought you all here. Please remember that many of us seasoned veterans burn less brightly, but hotter and more consistently than when we were young. Remember, every old veteran teacher was once a new teacher, and most shared the same dreams that you have. By the end of your first year, you will have been thwarted in myriad ways a myriad of times. Multiply that by years and decades and you may appreciate that cynicism becomes a coping mechanism. Just because someone carps on the outside doesn’t mean that person is corrupt on the inside. They are just venting.

    A major word of advice: Enjoy your summers! They will help you recharge and begin gestating the ideas for next year. Even after 28 years, I start planning for the next year before final exams, while my experiences are still fresh. I spend every summer finding and creating materials to use. I plan whole units based on the individual students I am expecting the next year. I really go too far, but it recharges me and allows my creative side to come out. Then, I get to see how things work out as I put them into practice the next year. This summer, I am trying to collect all my materials and create my own workbook. I’ll probably pay to have it printed out of my own pocket. I usually provide all my own materials, as it is too much trouble to get the school to pay for things. It’s one of the petty annoyances that most of you will have to deal with on a much lower salary than you believe possible for the work that you will do. Thanks again, and please stay a teacher until you have got it right!

    Good luck and have a great summer!

    • Debby

      Great post. Retired Tchr here… 40+ yrs.
      Last 27 yrs as a special educator in a comprehensive high school. It saddens me to see the corporate takeover of our schools. Are there statistics available to indicate how many, if any, TFAers continue as teachers after their commitment? As we veteran teachers know, their short tenure is barely enough time to get their toes wet.

  11. houstonheart

    Just wanted to first of all, thank you for the feedback and let you know that yes – I do read your blog and I am interested in many of your opinions.

    To clear up a few things:

    1) What I originally wrote was a verbatim quote by the 2012 CM I talked with. My mistake was in the fact that I did not put quotation marks and therefore the quote was interpreted as my own. I think it’s clear from my blog in general that I am still trying to sort out what TFA says from what I personally believe. I don’t think I am 100% “drinking the TFA kool-aid” (as others have called it) but I am instead trying to find a nice middle ground.

    Furthermore, I’m trying to avoid directly quoting people at all – friends, roommates, CMs, CMAs, people I encounter – because I want to give people the privacy to say what they want to say without fear that their words will be made public. Institute is a learning and growing experience for all of us and we are all, from time to time, bound to say things that don’t perfectly reflect our true viewpoints. I am protecting my identity and trying to maintain the anonymity of myself and the people I talk to because I don’t think it’s fair that people have to filter themselves around me for fear of having their perspectives broadcasted and maybe held against them.

    That said, I think there are some quotes I hear that DO make me think and feel things that I wouldn’t have, had I not heard them. I’m still trying to figure out what to do in those situations. I’ve already expressed my feelings about direct quotations above, but (as I learned from this entire experience) indirect quotations are also not a great idea. I hope you’ll give me the space to grow and feel this out for myself over the next few months.

    2) As I said to the commenter above me, I do welcome feedback. I deleted the comment because lots of my family members (including my mom) read my blog and I don’t think those people would be comfortable reading comments with the harshness and severity of the one in question. This has nothing to do with an inability to receive feedback but more so my desire to keep some things private, so that the conversation centers around the issues (and not around the qualities/tone of the comments themselves). Know that I do read the comments and I do care. Hopefully all of this makes sense; I want feedback and I do have good intentions.

    3) Regardless of your specific feelings about Institute, I think we can all agree that it is a time to be 100% physically, emotionally, and mentally present. That’s why I’m choosing to spend my time lesson planning rather than trying to perfectly capture every single moment on a blog. I am bound to misspeak, to say things that might not reflect my true perspective, to err at times; to 100% avoid doing these things would be to not say anything at all.

    4) Institute is an extremely isolating experience. I barely have time to deal with this sort of stuff, much less read outside ed policy material (which is something I very much want to get back into after Institute is over). So I guess I can best say this: please don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t have the time or emotional energy to dissect every single thing TFA tells me, and as I said in my “about me” section, I view this as a travelogue of sorts.

    5) I completely agree with the commenter above me. A teacher should be one person who cares amidst a bevy of people who care – pastors, counselors, parents, etc. Obviously all these people would care in an ideal world. However, the sad truth is that for many students out there, there isn’t that one person who cares. So I guess my point is that teachers should care. They will maybe be the only ones who do (which is sad and obviously shouldn’t be the case, but there are still students who fall through the cracks). I think we can all agree that it’s better for teachers to care than to not care. And that’s all I was trying to say.

    6) I read so, so many TFU blogs before I was accepted to the 2013 corps and I definitely recall some CMs who lost their blogging nerve after having their comments picked apart so many times. Perhaps we’re asking for it, perhaps by putting ourselves out there we’re begging for the criticism of people wanting something/someone concrete to direct that criticism towards. So I guess I will say this: it takes a lot of vulnerability and bravery for someone my age, in my position, to write in such a public forum. I know you have the wisdom of so much TFA/life experience but I urge you to remember I don’t have that life experience. I’m not offended by what you said – nor do I need people to be offended for me – but I guess I just ask that you deliver your feedback gently. And maybe you don’t agree with this; maybe it’s not your style or the way you want to do things. But please know this: I’d be happy to engage with you in a mutually respectful, productive manner. Having an entire blog post written about something I wrote that I shouldn’t have, though, strikes me as just a little bit harsh.

    One final note: many of my TFA friends know you/your blog by name, which speaks to the impact you’ve made on the TFA community. Many of those friends are scared to blog or even to publicly share their TFA experiences because they’re worried about posts exactly like this one. Maybe we’re not thick-skinned enough or self reflective enough or feedback-happy enough to handle these sorts of posts, but let me say this: the path to us making ourselves more vulnerable and more self-reflective and all of those things is probably not the path you’ve chosen in creating an entire post about my words as a reflection of my TFA brainwashing. In any conversation, having more viewpoints and more perspectives is better. I understand your intentions in trying to call me out on things I say, but I would urge you to think a little bit about people who would’ve been more offended and more unnerved by your feedback than I was. If those people disappear from the conversation, then there are fewer viewpoints. And I think we can all agree that that’s an outcome beneficial for no one.

    Again – thanks for the feedback. It’s a little harsh that an entire post was written about me, but hey, I guess that’s life. Wishing you all the best for a great rest of the weekend and a good beginning to summer.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Hi houstonheart,
      I thought I made a big effort to not be very harsh, but I guess it didn’t come off as I wanted it to. This is a problem with writing, sometimes. I think if this was a video blog you’d see what a genuine and caring person I am. I guess the point was that teacher bashing has wreaked a lot of damage on the education profession in recent years so it riles me up when I see it. To make it up to you, here are some food suggestions for Houston. I don’t get back there much, but when I do I always try to visit all these places: The Good Company BBQ on Kirby — get the brisket sandwich. Ruggles — any of the desserts. Papasitos (also on Kirby) for fajitas. Buffalo Grill for breakfast. Beck’s Prime for burgers. –Gary

      • RunOn

        You know I’ve read many of your pieces that ridicule other bloggers…its interesting that you take such pleasure in mocking new teachers’ naivete (if you didn’t you wouldn’t bother to write about it). It is my understanding that it took you quite some time (10-15 years?) to become so….enlightened and wise as you assert yourself to be now about teaching and TFA.

        You most likely aren’t going to be able to “teach” (if thats your intention) someone something it took you 10-15 years to come to terms with yourself. And I’m not exclusively referencing teacher bashing, I’m speaking to your overall position on teaching and instruction, the state of teaching politics currently, and Teach For America as an organization. And your certainly not going to teach a person you don’t value. I personally would be skeptical of someone who just believed every word I said without questioning it or applying life experience to make sense of it.

        Rather than mocking people who don’t have the first hand experience yet perhaps you should just stick to speaking on YOUR experience and hoping that they wise up quicker than you did. You alienate people who were actually interested in what you have to say when you mock them for their ignorance or inexperience. Reflect on how you felt and what you thought not just during your first year but during your first few years. What was your process? You might be shocked to realize how many incoming and current CMs read your blog and agree with what you are saying. But this whole deriding thing is obnoxious and has got to stop. You are an intelligent person and also as a teacher I would think you would never scorn an individual for what you consider a lack of knowledge.

        You can make a general point about teacher bashing by paraphrasing and summarizing what you read without linking to people who are still dissecting their experiences and struggling to understand them.
        You say you are a genuine and caring person and yet everytime another blogger says that you’ve made them uncomfortable and feel unwelcome to share their experiences and views you rarely show any concern. Although your years have perhaps made you wise you should consider how they’ve hardened you. You couldn’t even muster a “I’m really sorry I upset you and that wasn’t my intention” (which by the way is barely even an apology but just at least an acknowledgement that your actions impacted someone else). I teach my kids that when they apologize they say “(name), I apologize for (what they did), I feel bad that I did that and will not do it again.” They are 5. I will continue to read your blog because I think you say interesting and insightful things and I hope that in 20 years I will still have the passion you clearly have and have well formed opinions and knowledge. But I am disappointed in these types of posts.

        • Cosmic Tinkerer

          Don’t blame Gary for what is the typical course of development from novice to expert for virtually everyone in all fields, according to a large body of research. It takes a minimum of 10 years to become an expert. This is not 10 years of experience alone, but 10 years of deliberate practice, with a concerted effort towards self-improvement –or most adults would be cooking like Julia Child by now. People progress through five stages from novice to advanced beginner, competent, proficient to expert. There is no guarantee of becoming an expertise, but it’s not likely expertise can be fast tracked by trying to cut corners.

          • RunOn

            I’m not quite sure what you mean here. I’m not blaming Gary for anything. I’m questioning why he points out the deficits of novice teachers from his perspective (or perch) as an expert and then faults the novices rather than understands from his experiences that this is the typical process. If the process is 10 years at least for virtually everyone, then why deride individuals in their initial years of that process? What purpose does that serve him or them?

          • Cosmic Tinkerer

            This program is intent on trying to fast track young adults into teaching by cutting corners and then pumping up egos, leading people to believe their intelligence and enthusiasm are enough. They are not, so any truths shed on that should be taken as enlightenment, not personal attacks.

          • RunOn

            I agree with you wholeheartedly that intelligence and enthusiasm are not what comprises or develops effective and solid teaching. I am with you 100% that there is a misguidance and harmful understanding of what it takes to be a teacher. But, I think that a person can be a catalyst for another’s enlightenment but can not enlighten a person. There is a difference between enlightening and telling. I think that is why a lot of young CMs going into the corps, currently in the corps, and other teachers read Gary’s blog. Because it provides a view into the mind of someone with 25 years of experiences with and in TFA and in teaching, etc. But these CMs still need to find or have experiences to match what Gary is saying. If they believed him blindly isn’t that a little more concerning than a skeptic who wants proof? Similar to TFA cutting corners, no matter how much experience Gary has, he cannot literally transfer that to another person. If I’ve never driven a car, perhaps I can visualize it, I can imagine what it feels like, but ultimately no matter how much you or anyone tells me what it feels like to drive a car or how to drive a car, I’m not going to truly understand how to drive a car until I do it…until I try for myself. So while Gary sharing his experience is valuable, calling people out individually for sharing their own is not enlightening others. It is a personal attack. It is probably not productive. If one agrees with the core of what Gary is saying then they’ve either a. had a personal experience to substantiate and match or b. they are believing him blindly at his word. I find any contempt or conviction prior to investigation to be alarming and cause for concern. You don’t enlighten a person. You guide a person to enlightenment. If TFA hiring inexperienced teachers who are intelligent and have some scope of broad knowledge is cutting corners how is that different from Gary essentially belittling the role that individual experience (e.g. calling out CMs experiences and deriding them for it) plays in shaping an educator’s mindset.?

          • Cosmic Tinkerer

            Often, in the classroom, one student may make a mistake which, in the teacher’s experience, is a very common error amongst students. That might be a time when the teacher says to the entire class something like, “I think we can all learn from this,” mentions that it’s a common mistake, points out the issue and addresses it.

            That is a teachable moment. While it might entail singling out the error of one student from the rest, the teacher tries to temper that by mentioning that the student is not alone in making that mistake and then capitalizes on the opportunity to reach and teach everyone about the issue. Alternatively, he can ignore it, or he could teach just the students who’ve made the error, in groups or individually, neither of which would be very efficient. That would also carry the risk of not teaching those who didn’t err this time but who could still benefit from learning about the matter, so including them can further comprehension and prevent future errors.

            This is how people learn by trial and error, in groups, and through emergent curriculum or situated learning that arises from real life occurrences. Teaching online, whether on a blog or in a virtual classroom, is very similar to classroom learning in brick and mortar, except that the teacher’s tone of voice and body language are omitted whenever most, if not all, communications are through written language. That is a serious disadvantage and why it can be easy to misinterpret situations like this and see them as personal attacks.

            I think if you view how Gary writes through such a lens, you might realize that he is trying to be helpful and instructive and he does not engage in ad hominem.

          • RunOn

            I see what your saying but I guess agree to disagree. I’m not attacking Gary, I’m taking issue with his method and approach to what you are calling a “teachable moment.” The road to hell is paved with good intentions I guess right? But remember its hardly a misinterpretation if tone and body language are absent but key indicators of welcoming learning environments for teachable moments. Just something to remember next time there is a moment to seize but it is being done through writing. You can’t just hope and assume that people will think the best and know you have good intentions. Somehow you need to account for tone and body language absence.

    • Woefully Underpaid

      ” I deleted the comment because lots of my family members (including my mom) read my blog and I don’t think those people would be comfortable reading comments with the harshness and severity of the one in question. This has nothing to do with an inability to receive feedback but more so my desire to keep some things private, so that the conversation centers around the issues (and not around the qualities/tone of the comments themselves). Know that I do read the comments and I do care. Hopefully all of this makes sense; I want feedback and I do have good intentions.”

      I understood why you deleted the comment. Truthfully, I posted it for you and not for anyone else. Commenting was the only way I had to communicate with you. I do believe you have good intentions which is why I commented in the first place. Most of the time I don’t bother commenting on people’s blogs because there’s an arrogance/ignorance element to their overall blog that tells me they’re like most CMs I’ve met. They won’t believe anything I have to say so there’s no point saying it. They just need to live it for themselves and grow up a bit.

      For whatever reason you seem different. It’s a compliment but it probably means that TFA will likely be a rockier experience for you than it will be for many other CMs. I’m a nontraditional CM who has become increasingly frustrated and angry with TFA overall, in part because of things like what you were told by that CM. Chances are that CM doesn’t even believe it but it’s part of the “job” in welcoming new CMs. You’ll find that a teacher’s salary is hard to live on and CMs get paid for being part of the incoming corps welcome wagon. The CMs who welcomed me said all kinds of things in their capacity as my TFA temp employees. As I got to know them, I discovered that they knew what they were saying was wrong but they didn’t want to get in trouble. They said what TFA expected them to say.

      I’m sorry that some of that frustration got vented your way in my original comment. I just hope you’ll stay one of the good ones and I also hope that you’ll continue to keep blogging here. I think you’ll find that the sort of honesty offered up by Gary and in your comments will become comforting as you find yourself questioning more of what TFA says. It can feel extremely isolating and TFA’s pressure tactics and use of guilt and shaming is appalling. You’re not alone and you should never stop questioning, never stop learning, and never stop trusting yourself.

  12. Lida Mery

    Mr. Rubinstein,

    I am currently a 2013 CM teaching summer school at institute. I wanted to express how much I appreciate your blog since you bring critical insight into the workings of TFA that are troublesome and/or need improvement.

    I am a non-traditional student (albeit only a few years older than most CM’s). For a long time, I had thought that teaching was that one elusive career for me and I applied to TFA so I can make that a reality. I did not apply under a pretense like most CM’s who just want to embellish their resume. I actually wanted to teach and make a difference.

    In my hometown in FL, many teachers are being laid off. This is where TFA comes in…many teachers are being laid off yet Miami Dade county is hiring inexperienced college grads through their TFA contract. It is wrong, I admit but I went ahead and subscribed to the unfair and unethical system.

    I was accepted into TFA and quit my job (my permanent, full benefits job that I was good at) so as to attend induction and institute. In the meantime, I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on certification exam materials, review, supplies for institute, professional dress, etc….over $1500.

    It seemed to me induction was a major time-waster. Days ran from 8 AM to 8 PM and ALL discussions dealt with race and class diversity. You had a bunch of 22 year old white, mid to upper class college grads who were compelled to contemplate on their privileged upbringing. I desperately wanted to start my teacher training but I was told to be patient. That is what institute is for after all.

    I paid my $500 ticket to institute and there I was. Yet instead of actual teacher training, all we had were grueling, exhausting, boot camp days where the focus was on making us feel and act like fifth graders. More race and class discussions followed during the first week, followed by think pair share partner discussions, silly games and then more silly games. It was worse than a typical college atmosphere…for non-traditional students it seemed unbearable.

    Nobody…none of the 22 year olds EVER questioned anything. Not because they were afraid of repercussions but because TFA is a cult and they were acting like cult members. If anyone said jump, they would promptly follow. Not a day went by when we did not have big circle hugs, chants and motivational bits aimed at brainwashing us even more than we were.

    Every day TFA used strategic behavioral techniques in order to advance their brainwashing of CMs. School would end at 1 PM but redundant lessons would run until 5 PM and before we could go back to the dorms, the school director would extend our schedule by 20 minutes, during which time we would sit by the door while little “hot wheel” cars would be given to “outstanding” CM’s. Then 10 more minutes of shout-outs aimed at motivating us to get through institute.

    The sheer exhaustion was not really necessary, the endless, redundant sessions on race and class did not make us better teachers….I wanted to be lectured on teaching, I wanted actual experience in teaching rather than little intimidating signs held up by our faculty advisor or corps member advisor on how to behavior narrate. Yet all that was provided was game after game after silly game.

    Our day would begin in our advisor’s room where we would play little games, silly writes, draw pictures…etc….honestly I wanted to learn how to teach, I wanted to prepare for my upcoming lesson yet there I was having to draw a silly picture so that TFA could teach us how important it was for us to make teaching fun. They wanted us to start off the day for our students with the same irrelevant fun stuff. Whereas I wanted to start off the day by asking a critical question or journal entry about the last lesson’s theme, I was strongly advised to have fun kinesthetic activities for my students…that had nothing to do with the concepts we were learning.

    But yet again no one questioned ANYTHING, not the time-wasters, the schedule, the fact that we only had 4 hours of sleep max on many days even though we were not really learning how to teach properly. I can see why the brainwashing was effective. In essence, TFA stripped CM’s of choice, time and decision-making processes during institute so CM’s became engrossed in the cult….the main line of thinking was: well if I can get through this, I can get through my sole two years as a teacher.

    TFA loves to talk about differentiated instruction, they love to suggest kinesthetic and visual activities for our students, yet when it comes to them practicing differentiated instruction, they are lacking. The two non-traditional members in my school group were the only ones feeling hopelessly misunderstood during sessions. We would question things, we would roll our eyes at big circle hugs and chants and we would resent the fifth race and class discussion at 4 PM in the afternoon or the miniature car shout out at the end of the day that would prolong our day by a considerable amount.

    The typical CM’s thought we were crazy. Why would we question things? Why would we not participate in the 30 minute teacher stare contest at 5 PM on a Friday (even though we had more important things to do like grading, reading and planning)?

    Most of our corps member advisors were clones. They were racially diverse but nevertheless they were clones in their demeanor, personality, approach, philosophy. We were supposed to be clones of each other. About 90% of my fellow CM’s, though there was some racial diversity, were in fact individuals with privileged backgrounds. I only met a handful of education majors that wanted to stay in teaching for the long run. Most saw TFA as an adventure. Their first job out of college and an exciting one at that!

    I am quitting TFA and the reason is not because I am exhausted, not because I do not think I can be a good teacher. My summer school students respect me and actually listen to me (which can be a hard feat in a Title I school). My lessons are engaging and focused.

    The reason why I am quitting TFA is because I cannot and will not be part of a cult. I feel like I am treated fifth grader and no importance is given to my individuality, my suggestions or needs. Even though I executed my lessons much better than my fellow CM’s, I am quitting because TFA has made teaching horrible in my eyes. They have denigrated the one profession that I thought would be my long-lasting career. Even though I know I can be a good teacher, TFA has left a sour taste in my mouth through its propaganda and cult-like atmosphere. TFA has ruined teaching for me. I don’t know how to get “it” back. I am disillusioned.

    While I used to love to give presentations at my prior job, I have now come to loathe even speaking in front of a group because TFA has made everything so mechanical and lackluster. I no longer have any passion for teaching. I do not enjoy it any longer. I feel that TFA, through its brainwashing methods, has stripped me of my passion for teaching and my dreams.

    I am certain that this would not have happened had I gone through a serious, traditional teaching program.

    As I am writing this, I am looking at my one suitcase neatly arranged and sitting my dorm room floor. Early in the morning, I will be flying back home. Yet because of all the stigma associated with quitting, I barely had any guts to tell anyone, not even my closest friends here.

    Ethically, I also cannot bear to know that traditionally trained, veteran teachers are out of jobs in my hometown and people like myself (with no training or experience in education) are next in line for their jobs.

    I have lost over $2000 so far….I spent so much on supplies, printer as I arrived at institute, I lost my job, my dreams and my passion. All in 4 weeks of TFA-ness.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Sorry you’ve had to go through such an ordeal over the past four weeks. I’ve always wondered why these CMs who have been supposedly chosen for their ‘leadership’ qualities don’t speak up more about the obvious misuse of very scarce and critical time. If you create a blog on this site, which you are still entitled to do, and write some more posts with more details about your experience, I can write a post linking to them. I hope you’re able to bounce back from this. Feel free to continue commenting if you want. — Gary

      • Woefully Underpaid

        “I’ve always wondered why these CMs who have been supposedly chosen for their ‘leadership’ qualities don’t speak up more…”

        Short answer: Fear.

        I don’t know what it’s like in other regions, but TFA is vastly powerful in mine and dissent is not tolerated. It’s why I don’t have a blog here or discuss my TFA experience. I am flat out terrified. TFA has the ability to destroy my ability to earn a livelihood in this city if I cross them, a fact that has been made clear by members of the staff. I suppose that wouldn’t matter if I could afford to move but I can’t.

    • parus

      Lida, when you’ve had some time to sort things out, I would highly recommend looking into post-baccalaureate teacher certification/master’s programs. A good one will allow you opportunities to network, which should increase your chances of landing a job, and will include both traditional teacher training and a substantive practicum or two. After about three semesters if all goes well you could enter a classroom full-time as a fully trained and certified teacher.

      I also have colleagues who had a good experience with securing jobs as paraprofessionals (e.g. aides) at schools, while attending school part-time to get their education degrees and teaching licenses, then transitioning into being classroom teachers or specialists. This is a slower process, but para jobs generally have decent benefits if not stellar pay, and again, they allow you to build up an education resume and make contacts. Some districts may also have some tuition reimbursement.

      Best of luck with your future endeavors, whether or not they include the education field.

    • anonymous

      Honestly, the same thing might well have happened in a traditional teaching program. You would have spent even more money, though you would have gotten more sleep.

      • Megan H

        True story. I did TFA and now I am in a two-year masters program at a very prestigious university. There’s no chanting or brainwashing, but very few of my classmates actually think about what the professors are saying — everything is just accepted at face-value, just like in TFA.

        And, to link it back to the original nature of this post, there is so much teacher bashing it makes my head spin. These are pre-service teachers who have never experienced the responsibility of being a classroom teacher, and yet speak with authority about how ‘bad’ teachers are destroying the education system.

        ARGH!

    • edharris

      I wonder if they give consideration to what Dr. Camika Royal said, or replay her speech:
      http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/07/13/her-royal-majesty/

    • Meg

      It sounds like you had a pretty miserable experience, which I’m sorry for. It’s clear that you’re still feeling pretty emotional about it, which is also understandable. Your experience is what it is, but I wish you would have stuck to your own experience. You make an awful lot of broad generalizations that are based on extremely minimal experience (less than a month, if you’re at one of the earliest institutes). Saying most CMs only want to pad their resume is both inaccurate and unfair, and just because no one questioned anything to YOU doesn’t mean no one was questioning anything. I don’t know a single CM from my region that didn’t question some (if not many) things that TFA said/did during our time in the corps. It seems like you’re trying to blame anyone and everyone for TFA not working out for you, without taking any of the responsibility on yourself. If you honestly feel you’re teaching great lessons with really solid classroom management in your first two weeks teaching (and this has nothing to do with Title I schools) then you probably would have been in for a rough year anyway. No one is a good teacher at Institute, but your failure to recognize that suggests you’d probably have issues in whatever teacher prep program you were in. Again, I’m sorry you were miserable, and maybe for the time being its helpful for you to think of TFA as some sort of cult monster, but none of that is going to help you become a good teacher.

      • parus

        “No one is a good teacher at Institute…”

        Seriously? Poor children who are getting this for their summer school, then.

        One of my student teaching partners at institute was very competent at both management and instruction right from the jump. He’d had some experience in the classroom already, I forget exactly what. I still use a couple of ideas I stole from him back then.

        Not all CMs are coming to institute as blank slates, you know. And there is the occasional gifted beginner.

        • Meg

          Yes, poor children who get this for summer school. I’d agree with you that some are better than others at Institute, and not everyone struggles monumentally, but I don’t think anyone can be a good teacher in five weeks, no matter how “gifted” a beginner they are. Would you honestly want an institute CM teaching your students? I sure wouldn’t.

      • Megan H

        I think you are probably right that *most* TFAers “question some (if not many) things that TFA said/did during our time in the corps.” My question is, how many actually voiced those opinions in a public forum? I was consistently the sole voice in my cohort and was ostracized for it. My experience at TFA was that though many claimed to be critical, few were actually confident enough to stand up for their beliefs.

    • Ali

      Lida,
      I too was a non traditional CM,older and driven to actually be a teacher. Like you, I saw TFA as a way to get certified inexpensively and get a job. I knew I would not be the best teacher right away but I hoped with training I would be ok while I learned. I,too, resented institute (though it ended up being the high point of my time in TFA) and wondered why we weren’t using our time wisely. I was placed outside my area of expertise and in an unsafe environment.

      When I reached a breaking point at my school the clones of TfA were not helpful and I left (along with many of my fellow teachers).

      After returning home I spent a lot of time rebuilding what had been a stable life. After I collected myself, I applied to traditional education masters/certification programs and I am proud to say I am a much better teacher than I ever could have been through TfA. I had internships that inspired me and taught me how to actually lead a classroom through good,solid instruction.

      I know where you are. I know how scary the debt can be, but it is worth it to be where you are meant to be. Look into TEACH grants which forgive loans if you teach in a high need area in a needed subject (STEM plus Special Ed). Keep in mind there are high need schools in functional counties and communities that can support you as a teacher.

      I am two years behind where I thought my teaching career would be. It was absolutely worth it.
      Ali

  13. Karyn

    The description of the drive around of the impoverished area reminded me of the start of the 2012 school year at my TFA affiliated charter school, also in Houston. Coming from a non TFA background, and having certification, as well as being significantly older than other teachers at my school, I found myself quietly contemplating the many strange and silly practices which were considered professional development. We too, drove around the impoverished area of our school and had a scavenger hunt to identify various things and take pictures. I found this odd and insulting to the “native” inhabitants of the area, who looked strangely on groups of more affluent white people stopping to take photos and jumping back in there cars.

    That was just the beginning, & I began to discover what TFA meant and how their catch phrases were simply mindlessly repeated as indictment of others who appeared not to be part of the TFA mindset.

    One young TFA history teacher had been given a leadership position. She consistently spent time on silly “team building” activities. Toward the end of the year we were asked to give numeric grades of 1 to 5 to all our student’s seven key character traits. I objected and had to argue vigorously against this practice before she would accept that I was not going to do this. All other teachers provided numbers and Ms. TFA found it “really interesting” that ALL of the other teachers provided numbers to our students that averaged about 3 (mid point) in this exercise. Instead of interpreting this as a meaningless exercise, she was very enthusiastic about the merits of what was accomplished here.

    Our principal, a young, inexperienced TFA’r, who had taught English to the same group of students previously, criticized me for not holding the students to high enough expectations of mastery based on the discrepancy between their course grades in my science class and how they did on an internal semester test given across all schools in the system. But, we were expected to allow many retakes during the semester and no retakes were possible on the final semester test. This principal, in justifying her criticism of me, emailed me “that she had to air (sic) on the side of caution”. (Hmm… I guess this would explain the poor mastery of English many of the students exhibited.)

    The biggest problem with TFA is the unquestioned belief in themselves and the disrespect they exhibit for all other experience. They are the “best and the brightest”, who will save education. But, do they not realize that this phrase, “best and brightest” was derived from the Kennedy advisors who got us into Vietnam?

    Our school system has a 24 !!?? year old TFA’r as principal in one school. How is it possible to teach middle school math for two years and be qualified as a principal at the age of 24? Only extreme hubris would allow one to think they were truly qualified for this position after such limited experience in life.

    The TFA types speak of the fulfillment of the American Dream and presume to know that they have the key to this dream. In their view it lies in success on multiple choice tests. Questioning and discussion is too time consuming and is not “aligned” with multiple choice testing prep. Recently, I have been watching “The Wire” on Netflix and saw the character Omar wearing a basketball jersey with large letters saying “I am the American Dream”. It made me laugh. Omar is more aware than many naive TFA’er.

  14. yoteach

    For the record, and not that you should care, but I have no problem with this kind of analysis of corps members perhaps problematic assumptions about teachers/education etc. Just please be careful if you move to assessing teacher performance based on their anecdotes. Remember to frame such things around what it may evidence about TFA training or ideology, rather than why the teacher is ineffective. Furthermore, I really applaud your scaling back in the teacher criticisms since our back and forth almost a year ago (regardless of whether that was coincidental or a result of the discussion).

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Hmmmmmm. I’d like to think that it was just a coincidence, but maybe it was also because of the guilt trip you laid on me!

  15. Ricardo's Mami

    At one point, we drove through an extremely low-income area of Houston. There were so many people outside – loitering, dealing drugs, or just passing time.

    I live in a low-income area and the reason we are all outside is because without AC it is too hot to be inside. Mostly we are not dealing drugs and since we are in our own yards we are not really loitering, either. The neighborhood kids are not playing Rachmaninoff or doing calculus, but they are playing a made up game with a soccer ball and basketball without fighting. How would this CM describe a block party in the neighborhood she grew up in? As people doing drugs or drinking wine? As people conspiring or chatting? As neighborly associating or just passing time?

    I hope I was never her teacher.

  16. Maya P

    I’m happy to have found this blog, and look forward to reading more of it. What you say is great. I do want to comment on one thing though:

    “Teach For America appeals to people who, at least on some level, believe that they can make a bigger impact on students after five weeks of training than the ‘average’ teacher has accomplished.”

    While it’s true that TFA appeals to people who want strongly to make and impact, and have some confidence that they can, I don’t think that everyone hoping to participate thinks they can do so much better with so much less training. In my experience, students curious about teaching often consider TFA partly because they don’t know much about other avenues to get into teaching. Our country–at least to my knowledge–does not have many well-known teaching programs, organizations, or firms that travel around to colleges advertising the marvel of the profession, enticing and recruiting students, as many other fields do. Students, therefore, who don’t have specific career plans or commitments and want to explore their options aren’t thinking about the fact that the training is only 5 weeks long. I expect that most TFA-prospects would happily engage in a 10-week training (just as an example, not that it would make all the difference). TFA does a good job of making itself known, and therefore students consider it along with other after-college options, whether they seriously consider teaching, or simply want to expose themselves to unfamiliar communities, and try to make a difference.

    I’m not saying that teaching isn’t a challenging world to enter into, or that training programs besides TFA don’t exist. I understand it requires intensive training, experience, and time to grow as a teacher. I think, though, that it’d be great to develop more fervent recruitment and awareness around other avenues into the profession. As a young woman excited about maybe teaching myself, I would love to learn more about the various options.

  17. Jack

    Katie Osgood was today’s guest on a HuffPost talk show criticizing TFA.

    Later on in the show, a blogger and TFA defender named Justin Tong then joined the show and challenged her while not addressing any of her actual criticisms.

    In response, Katie was having none of Justin’s calls for Katie and everyone to just “work together.”

    Great stuff… just wish that it was longer.

    Check it out:

    http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/bad-side-critical-look-at-teach-for-america-/51e6dc2c2b8c2a353c0000a0

    Here’s the written promo:

    Some public school teachers are speaking out against Teach For America, alleging that the organization’s training is insufficient and that it threatens existing jobs. In Chicago earlier this month, critics gathered at the Free Minds, Free People conference to discuss the organization’s role in the local school system.

    Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, told HuffPost Live Monday that she feels Teach For America educators and leaders have done “extremely damaging reform” to the education system, placing inexperienced teachers with the neediest students and putting other teachers’ jobs at risk.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
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Grade
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Subject
Math

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