Jul 12 2013

Denouement

A few weeks ago, I got into a back and forth with a friend about charter schools. She accused me of being too general in my distaste for them, and blasted me for not taking a more nuanced approach to education policy. After responding to a barrage of comments on my open letter the past two days, I know how it feels to be the nuanced one. Perhaps, as a friend said, too thoughtful and nuanced for the internet.

In the wake of Katie Osgood’s letter and my counter point, I stand resolved in my view that we need more young, dedicated teachers. While Teach For America may only guarantee a corps of young teachers for two years, that’s two years where the right people can make a difference in the lives of their students. Further, it is my hope that, like half the 2011 Milwaukee corps, these individuals will continue teaching in urban schools.

I also have the crazy notion that I can support TFA and teachers unions. That is because teachers unions are the key to elevating the profession. Thus, I believe teachers unions must organize young professionals in education so that they stop buying into all the corporate education hype. And anyone who thinks it’s only TFA teachers buying into the hype are absolutely wrong.

Two other points that have come up are TFA’s hiring operation in Chicago and TFA’s cluster model.

It is clear that the Chicago Public Schools have agreed to hold hundreds of sports for TFA corps members who they may or may not have interviewed or even met yet. It is imperative that TFA Chicago’s Executive Director,¬†Josh¬†Anderson, address this topic and put the issue to rest for the education community.

Further, I personally call on TFA and others to investigate the potential damage of clustering corps members in schools. It is clear that it can create a bubble between corps members and school staff that is difficult to break, and may exponentially increase turnover at these schools. I believe corps members should be learning from TFA and veteran teachers. It’s more difficult to do that when TFA indirectly limits corps members’ exposure to other people.

I believe TFA is an impressive organization which identifies amazing individuals and plays a part alongside schools and universities in producing great teachers. I also believe there are even more great teachers for corps members to learn from and veterans in the education field should foster this relationship.

3 Responses

  1. Megan Hanley

    Hi Alex,

    I was a 2009 CM in Chicago placed in a Head Start (so a PreK classroom). I loved my placement and stayed there for three years (unlike your experience, I was one of the few in my cohort who actually stayed teaching after the two-year commitment).

    What I found in the Head Start world was a plethora of passionate and dedicated women. These women were mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who had so much expertise on how to raise and manage young children, as well as what our students needed to learn in order to survive in their communities.

    What these women needed were college degrees. They were all “woefully underpaid” (love that username, BTW) because of their lack of formal education, and they saw the injustice in this. They asked me about TFA and how they could get into the program so that they too could have a bargaining chip with our employer to negotiate their hours and go to school.

    How powerful would it be if TFA altered their program, and helped some of the teachers in the Head Start world to graduate from college (and then maybe a masters)? These are women who have already committed to stay in the classroom and the communities that they themselves were raised in and still live in.

    What TFA offered to us, that my co-workers and friends needed, was a force to be reckoned with. For example, when one TFA CM at my school actually lost a child (left him on the bus for four hours without noticing), TFA came in to protect her from losing her job (something that surely would have happened to any other employee at the school). My co-workers lived in constant fear of losing their jobs, which seems pretty standard for the Head Start world from what I hear.

    Additionally, our employers refused to work with their employees and demanded that employees work their school schedule around their work schedule, though it was the other way around for TFA CMs. Our schedules were predetermined so that we could go to our late night certification classes. Many of my co-workers were not certified and CERTAINLY would have benefited from an accelerated, alternative certification program. Additionally, they consistently asked me about my professional development training, so clearly would have welcomed the assistance of a Program Director (as they used to be called, I can’t keep up with these TFA acronyms and find them a waste of resources, whoever sits around and redesigns them every three years or so) and Professional Development Days.

    Just a thought…

    PS. Keep writing! While I may not agree with everything you say, your tone is respectful and humble which I always gets props in my book :)

  2. Megan,

    I definitely identify with your experience. One of the big reasons I decided to stay at my school in Milwaukee another year is because my colleagues are truly passionate people who came to our center because they enjoy the work. Unlike most of my TFA colleagues, my day-to-day peers are people who grew up in and around Milwaukee and can identify with my students.

    In Wisconsin, daycare providers who receive state funds have to open their doors to the state’s ratings agency, YoungStar. While I don’t agree with the method, our YoungStar rating is linked to the percentage of funds we receive (e.g. high rating equals a higher percentage of standard rate, average rating equals standard rate, and low rating equals a lower percentage of standard rate). One section of the rating scale is the education background of the staff. So, since the program has been implemented, we’ve really worked as a center to ensure that our staff get time to go back for their Associates and Bachelors degrees. Before the recession and some major funding cuts, we were able to provide a fair amount of tuition reimbursement, too.

    I think it would be great for TFA and others to help centers that don’t have the resources to train their staff to be fully certified educators. There is so much research that suggests the early years are so important, so why aren’t we supporting the individuals teaching our students when they’re in that age range? It’s an area where we can and should grow. As TFA continues to expand its ECE presence, it should be making the program accessible to those in the field who can further their careers with further education. Now that would truly lift up some of our most underserved communities!

    Thanks so much for your comment, Megan, and I plan to pass it along and keep thinking about it!

    Best,
    Alex

  3. Megan Hanley

    Thanks for your response, Alex!

    I fear that TFA would not be willing to adjust their requirements to get into the program (i.e., the need to have a Bachelor’s Degree just to apply).

    Additionally, it would be difficult for some Program Directors to assist women who were much older than them with far more experience. So this too, might create tensions.

    Finally, I am skeptical that TFA would be able to move away from its image of recruiting the “best and the brightest.” I have a much different perception of the majority of the CMs I met during my time with TFA — while they were no doubt intelligent, they lacked perspective and experience, most coming from privileged backgrounds which made them seem sheltered and unaware. Now I am pursuing a masters at Teachers College, which also supposedly recruits the “best and the brightest,” and am finding alarming similarities between the people in TFA and the people in my program at TC.

    My point here is, in order for TFA to be open to the suggestions I am making, they would have to redefine what it means to be the best and the brightest, and whether or not their current version of the best and the brightest really make the best teachers…

    My perception of TFA is that they are so consumed with their image as a “prestigious” program that they would not perceive my co-workers as fitting into that image, though I feel that the women I worked with were by far some of the best and the brightest people I have ever met.

    Thanks again for the dialogue! Love it!

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About this Blog

I'm an educator, Kalamazoo College alumnus, Democrat, and proud Detroiter! Views here are my own.

Region
Milwaukee
Grade
Early Childhood

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