Jul 17 2013

Be the solution

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? approved an essay

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.

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4 Responses

  1. Woefully Underpaid

    “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.”

    And what about those CMs who join up intending to make a career of teaching only to discover that it isn’t financially viable? Until our society stops demanding that teachers act like martyrs, it’s going to be hard to find smart, dedicated, and capable teachers who are willing to stay. We are underpaid and abused by the system and society with excessive hours, ballooning class sizes, accountability for things outside of our control, diminishing control of our curriculum, minimum pay, pay freezes, “taking back” salary increases, public vilification for “laziness” and “incompetence,” a lack of cooperation, participation, or accountability from parents for the care and success of their own children, and hours and hour of unpaid “overtime.” TFA exacerbates those abuses with its insufficient training, belief in standardized testing over teaching, and guilt-ladden martyr requirements. The fact that teaching is a noble calling doesn’t mean that teachers are willing to voluntarily succumb to poverty or poverty-like conditions to pursue it. The joy is leaving this profession and so are people who have a choice to work elsewhere and pursue the same kind of happiness we encourage our students to pursue. I don’t know a single teacher who would recommend that their child become a teacher in the U.S. anymore.

    • I agree with your sentiments and you’re right that we don’t need more martyrs. What we do need are programs that are targeting folks passionate about education, helping them prepare for the career (see my post from yesterday), and want to stick with it. Again, I’m not asking for folks who don’t want to be in the classroom to come and be a teacher. I don’t, however, want people to think that they’re central to this issue when they aren’t educating children. I’m tired of the talking heads. We have enough of them. We need people to put their efforts where their talking points are when it comes to education. That’s what I’m doing, what I plan to do, and I hope others will join me.

      Further, teachers are fighting for better conditions on many fronts. Part of why I believe we need passionate young people in the profession is so that we can take the torch and push forward.

  2. Shannon

    I’m genuinely asking this: is there a shortage of teachers where you are? Or, just a shortage of people who are willing to stay for more than a few years? In PA you’ll find people with education degrees everywhere- teachers’ colleges abound, while jobs don’t. This was even before the current rounds of layoffs, so now there are even more teachers with no classrooms…

    Here is West Virginia’s solution to teacher shortages: http://wvde.state.wv.us/transitiontoteaching/

    • I have to say I haven’t done the research to see the number of teacher vacancies vs. the number of unemployed teacher. I do, however, think that part of teacher recruitment programs can be targeting folks who already have degrees and certifications and are looking for work. I think groups like TeachTown Milwaukee are starting to do this work. Some of the best TFA corps members I’ve met are the ones who already have a teaching certificate.

      But, again, I never argue that this is a single-issue solution to our education woes. We’re underfunding schools and laying off folks left and right in urban districts. We shouldn’t be seeking cheap labor. We should be fully funding our schools and keeping class sizes in line, too. It’s outrageous that last year I read stories of 30 to 50 students in a Detroit Public School classroom.

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

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