From the Inside

Our district’s in pain– significant staff reductions, deficits, the highest poverty level we’ve seen, increasing trickle-down demands from Race to the Top. This is not nearly the kind of pain detailed to me by a friend who is by a friend who is a well-known education writer and blogger and whose daughter is completing her first year as a public school teacher.

I was intrigued, especially, by how Teach For America seems to be immune to the current fiscal seizures in my friend’s situation. Not even Wendy Kopp argues that TFA is a replacement for well-prepared, committed teachers:

“I have never taught. Now that I know what it takes to teach successfully, it would need to be a very serious and long-time commitment to climb the learning curve and do what it takes to truly change kids’ trajectories.”

So why aren’t our policies reflecting that?

My friend has some poignant perspective, and advice. I’ll let her words speak for themselves.

{My daughter’s district} is dismissing teachers EXCEPT for TFA teachers, who get ironclad contracts committing them to stay for two years and the school to keep them for two years. This is the wave of the future: Bring in bright new college grads with virtually no preparation, put them in the worst schools for two years with almost no mentoring (their colleagues know they’ll be gone in 2 years), and then repeat the cycle indefinitely.

People like my daughter are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They take out $50,000 in student loans for a top-quality, richly mentored 3-year MAT program (one year to do coursework and student teaching to earn the credential, two years in a part-time masters program that mentors them through their first two years on the job). They commit to a long-term teaching career in public schools, and enter the first tough year well prepared to collaborate and innovate. And then their district hangs them out to dry.

I am advising her to recommence her job search in surrounding districts with somewhat less brutal cuts, to call on the professional network she’s been building, to keep up close communication with her very supportive principal . . . and, finally, to reach out to all kinds of schools (she turned down a higher paid position in a private school to take this year’s district job).

It’s just a crime against the profession and the public, in my opinion, to strip the public schools of a professional, committed, continuously maturing teacher corps.

7 thoughts on “From the Inside

  1. Agreed. It’s things like this that frustrate me most about TFA. When there are other teachers ready for the jobs in a region (nevermind being fired), we shouldn’t be placing corps members. That’s when TFA earns the bad reputation.

    I believe in the mission to give children the opportunity to attain an excellent education. I believe in the power of filling the gaps in schools with willing teachers. But I also believe that filling the gaps in capacity in schools does not mean displacing other teachers.

  2. Yup. Though to have the necessary disclaimer, speaking for myself and not any institutional views. (Somewhat obviously, I hope. 🙂

  3. Hey Pal,

    I had an interesting conversation with Dick Sagor—the Action Research guru—a few months back about this topic.

    His view was that there were three routes the teaching profession could take:

    (1). Completely abandon formal teacher preparation and rely on TFA style staffing patterns—kind of like Switzerland’s volunteer army or the Peace Corps.

    (2). Completely strip down teaching and script the crap out of it so that we can hire warm bodies instead of professional educators to staff our schools.

    (3). Reinvest in education to make it a true profession. Pay teachers richly, but at the same time, expect them to be well-trained and capable.

    Considering the miserable direction that conversations around education have taken in the right-wing world we live in, which of those scenarios do you think we’re likely to see play out?



    Rock on,

  4. hearing the story of your friends daughter is heat breaking. Like her I am pursuing a professional degree in education with the same model described in your post. I am choosing this route because I am dedicated to the profession long term and I believe that such a program will provide me the necessary professional knowledge and support that I will need to succeed as a teacher. I have had experiences in schools dominated by TFA and I am consciously taking the teacher prep. route because of my commitment to education and I have seen how damaging sending underprepared teachers into classrooms with students from communities they know nothing about can be. It is very hard to read all the demonizing of teachings and teachers unions. One part of me feels like its crazy to go into debt for a proper education prep. program in the current climate of corporate ed. reform. On the other hand if good intentioned teachers are turning away from the profession it would be like letting them win. Am I in way over my head?? do you think your friend would still encourage someone like me to pursue a teacher prep. program, like her daughter and go into debt? is it worth it? we have to remain hopeful, right??

  5. I have also seen a lot of this kind of situation in schools. A good friend of mine has been on edge the past few months about her job because of the number of TFA teachers in her school. Her school also had to let a number of teachers go last year because of too many TFA contracts they had already signed. I know that because I’ve heard it from a friend, I am most likely biased, but her dilemma drove me crazy. How are we making these schools better learning environments for our students if we are forcing professional educators out the door?

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