WaPo’s Valerie Strauss, a frequent critic of “ed reform,” recently posted an interview with Rafe Esquith (a la Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire). In the interview he talks about his new book and his views on ed reform. When asked about TFA, he hits on what I believe to be our fatal flaw:
Most TFA teachers don’t stay in the classroom long. I want them to know that Room 56 matters. What we do matters. But the kids see teachers shifting back and forth, leaving for other jobs, [so] why would they believe anything matters if their teachers keep leaving?
He hits the nail on the head. It’s highly unlikely that any teacher is going to hit their stride in year one or year two. If they do, they aren’t doing anyone justice by heading for the revolving door after their second year. This is common knowledge.
Thus, as over 1,000 TFA alumni descend upon my hometown of Detroit this week for our alumni conference, I want to call on you, TFA alumni, to be the solution by being a career teacher. That’s where you’re needed. Not in a TFA office, not in law school, not in another non-profit cubicle piled higher and deeper in a Chicago or New York skyscraper. We need you to be the solution by leading a set of students in a classroom in your city.
I know this has to be hard to hear for alumni who have gone off to do other things. Maybe you aren’t the best target audience. But recruiting a corps of individuals who are largely going to leave the profession after two to five years isn’t changing much of anything. It’s not. The revolving door of TFA and non-TFA teachers exacerbates an educator achievement gap. When you and your colleagues leave, your former school has to train someone new. When you and your colleagues decide your tour is over, your students are subjected to the same stumbling blocks that you put them through as a rookie teacher. Yeah, you probably weren’t terrible as a first- or second-year teacher, but you probably commented that your kids deserved better. With experience, you can give them “better.” Infinitely better.
I’ve challenged states and unions to step up the plate and recruit more passionate individuals to join the profession. TFA and TFA alumni need to be held accountable, too. If you want to see a world where every child will receive an excellent education, then loosen that tie, put on some sensible shoes, and get yourself in a school. The time to do something is now. Think about it.
UPDATE: I just came across another great Q&A with a Former TFA employee who discusses TFA’s bloated number of middlemen and women. Just another reason why we don’t need folks on TFA staff and do need folks in intercity classrooms.