Teach for America as a finger in the dyke

May 17, 2010 at 9:24 am 5 comments

A really interesting, critical article about Teach for America.  The author praises the exuberance of the TFA students and the importance of gaining their involvement in solving critical educational problems.  On the other hand, the author points out that TFA can take jobs away from long-term teachers, and that TFA recruits aren’t all that well prepared (Quote: Helen Sherman, associate dean of teacher preparation at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has a number of professional concerns about TFA’s model: “It’s a pretend band-aid, a quick fix to make it look like they are doing something. But, honest to God, these kids aren’t prepared.”)  The concern is that the quick-fix may mask (and not correct) the larger problems and may prevent the larger problems from ever getting addressed.

This is relevant for us because a TFA model has been discussed as one way of getting 10K high school CS teachers by 2015.  The question is, “What happens in 2017 when those kids’ two year stint is up?”  The bigger question is how to build a sustained, multiple-course, high school computer science curriculum in our nations’ schools.  Can we build that in 10K schools with under-trained new graduates in only two years?

Barnett Berry, head of the Center for Teaching Quality, based in North Carolina, knows that too many urban kids are taught by ill-prepared substitutes. And it is a problem that TFA, in a finger-in-the-dyke approach, can help solve: “They can provide a teacher that the kids might not have otherwise, because the alternative could be a substitute with barely a college education. It’s not a question of whether we shouldn’t draw upon a bright, young, energetic group of people. Of course we should.”

“But,” Berry continues, “to suggest that TFA is the solution to the nation’s teaching quality gap is misguided at best.”

Berry likens the TFA recruits to sprinters—talented athletes, but insufficient if one wants to build a well-rounded track team. “TFA gets its recruits ready for a sprint, not a 10K or a marathon,” Berry notes. “They look like they are working harder than the veteran teachers. But the veteran teacher has experience and knows that if you want to make a career of teaching, a sprinting pace will burn you out.”

via Teaching for America.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom Hoffman  |  May 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

    You also need to think of this in terms of budget. What could you do with, say, $25,000 per recruit, which is in the ballpark (conservatively) of what TFA spends.

    • 2. Seth  |  May 17, 2010 at 4:39 pm

      Which is primarily raised via private donation.

  • 3. Hélène Martin  |  May 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I agree with all the points you’ve highlighted about TFA.

    As a relatively recent college grad teaching high school, I’d like to suggest that youth or lack of an ed degree doesn’t have to mean inexperience, necessarily. I was a TA for intro programming classes for 3 years as an undergrad and lectured my last quarter. I spent 6 months shadowing experienced high school teachers all day, every day. I feel very well prepared and in fact more so than folks I see out of ed school.

    A summer training isn’t enough for someone who has never been in front of a class and hasn’t been in a high school since graduating but it could be fine when paired with other meaningful teaching experiences. Lots of CS departments already have undergraduate teaching programs that could be the start of a pipeline into high school teaching (Stanford’s, for example: http://stanford.wikia.com/wiki/CS_198).

    Just a thought.

  • 4. norcross schools  |  May 18, 2010 at 8:34 am

    I agree with the points that you make. Well trained and educated teachers is what we need to benefit students in the long run.

  • 5. Alfred Thompson  |  May 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I learned how to teach via the sink or swim method. I was given a bunch of classes to teach (9 different age groups from K through 12) pointed to a room (actually two as I was working in two schools) and told to have at it. It was an educational year to say the least. I survived and went on to teach for a total of 9 years with 8 of those being high school. I like to think I was a pretty good teacher especially as I’d had no formal education training. That being said, I don’t recommend that for others.
    I did hire a teacher who like me came from industry with no formal training in teaching. I like to think that mentoring him made things a lot easier for him and made him a better teacher. I tend to think that teaching, like programming, is something best taught in a mentor/mentee format. Somethings are best taught on the job. Not that education degree programs are not helpful – I’m sure they are. But you don’t really learn the differnece between talking loudly and shouting until you are face to face with students. 🙂
    TFA teacher probably do work harder but only in part because they lack preperation. Most first year teachers have to work hard. They are learning a lot and figuring out so many things they didn’t learn in ed school. Maybe the TFA kids work harder – maybe not. I suspect that milage may vary.
    I know a lot of teachers who don’t slow down though. They are constantly reinventing themselves and their curriculum. Not everyone on the track team is a marathon runner and not everyone is a sprinter.
    TFA is not *the* answer. There is no one answer. But I do think that programs who come from industry and want to make the career and life style change to become teachers can be a great part of a set of answers. We just have to make sure they get the support and training to get started.


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