Saturday, February 25, 2012

Epiphanies and Elites: Solidarity with the People

This past week I found myself waking at 3am in order to attend the monthly Chicago Board of Education Meeting where the board voted to close/turnaround/phaseout 17 more schools in Chicago. While waiting in line, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Behind me in line were a group of people I remember thinking looked exceptionally out of place. While most people in line were dressed in casual clothing and union red, this group of about 4-5 people had on suits, and the women wore heavy make-up and heels. I think some of them may have been lawyers and business people. I overheard them mention words like KIPP and Teach for America (yes, I eavesdropped, I admit it.) Even their talk seemed different somehow. It was that 20-something, upper-middle class Lincoln Park sound (I know, right?). I tweeted, rather blurry-eyed in that early morning, “Standing in line for #CPS BOE meeting, people behind me from #TFA& #KIPP. They look like money-starkly diff from other teachers/parents...”

I ended up talking to a few of them, and they spouted the usual talking points. (Someone actually said to me “I don’t believe poverty is destiny” and “I think all children can learn”.) And some of them did go up and speak at the board meeting and unsurprisingly were all for school closings and turnarounds.

These types, these upper-middle class--and I will give them the benefit of the doubt—most likely well-meaning people were unequivocally on the side of the 1%. Their views, their dress, their worldview all aligned perfectly with the mayoral-appointed school board of millionaires and business elites. They were the voices of the moneyed powers that be.

In contrast, while I felt anger and disgust at the people behind me, I remember standing there with my buttons calling for the ending of school closures and support of neighborhood schools and feeling a powerful connection with the vast majority of people in line. The supporters of public education were every race, every background. They were people from every community around the city. And the issue of school closures and privatization had brought us all together.

In truth, I come from the hotseat of the powerful elite. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago and graduated from one of the most affluent public schools in Illinois: New Trier High School. (Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader recently wrote about New Trier's connections to the elite in Chicago and CPS. He mentions New Trier grad Todd Connor. Todd and I graduated the same year. I remember sitting in French class with him. He's a nice guy.) Still, based on how our highly-segregated society works, I probably should not be where I am today, fighting with union guys and community organizers.

But here is my epiphany. It was my choice of professions, becoming a teacher, which allowed me access into this world. When I chose teaching, many people gave me the tired old speech “But you’re too smart to be a teacher.” Others encouraged me to go into those alternative certification programs like Teach for America with an implied, "at least you’ll be able to do something 'real' after you get this teaching thing out of your system."

Maybe it was because I had already taught for years in Japan, a country which holds teachers in high-esteem, but I refused those alternative options. I believed and still believe today that every child deserves a fully-prepared teacher and thanks to the experience I’d already had in the classroom, I knew I needed to expand my practice before taking a class of my own. And when I made the switch to Special Education, I was sure that preparation was absolutely vital in reaching these fragile children.

But back to that day in line, I cannot tell you the sense of pride and solidarity I felt standing alongside my brothers and sisters fighting against something Rev Jesse Jackson appropriately called “educational apartheid.”

It bothers me that many of my peers from high school have done TFA or support the program so strongly. It bothers me that they believe charter schools with non-unionized young teachers and turnarounds with few tenured teachers are the answer. It bothers me that they see no problem disrupting communities or show little care at the impact on children having to cross gang lines and the violence that ensues thanks to school closings. I don't like how they so easily dismiss the disgusting funding inequalities which are truly to blame for struggling schools, but callously place the blame on teachers and parents. More than anything, it bothers me that all of these "reforms" are things that they would NEVER let happen at New Trier. To them, uncertified teachers in underfunded schools with "zero tolerance" discipline programs are just fine for the poor--for other people's children--but never for the wealthy. It is their worldview, their idea that they need to "save" the poor, that their unproven business-model reforms are somehow what's needed, and that they can swoop in, remain completed isolated from the communities they are "helping", and then go back to their elite world which irks me the most. I certainly have been guilty of some of these assumptions and thoughts in the past. But I am starting to get educated.

Recently, on an internet debate on Gary Rubinstein’s popular post, a Teach for America supporter wrote:
TFA is the corporate sponsor of education. It brings people to the field who could’ve been something else that people are generally impressed by- a doctor, a lawyer, what have you, and in doing that invests people who make it their business to command respect and be successful if only in the most corporate, numbers-based sense of the word. One can debate whether that makes an effective teacher. I tend to believe that being that committed and analytical can’t hurt. But to me it’s doubtless that TFA brings people to the field that get results and, if nothing else, demand the attention and respect that is needed to make education in general and teaching in particular respected enough to command the salaries and esteem that will bring forth real educational reform.

And here is part of my response I wrote citing an event I attended the week before the Board Meeting:

I am always so upset when I hear the argument that TFA recruits are somehow a better kind of person. So let me tell you a story.

This past week, I attended a rally which called for the ending of school closures and turnarounds in Chicago. The rally was held in a Baptist church on the south side near one of the targeted schools in one of Chicago’s many highly segregated African American communities. One by one many of the affected schools’ teachers came to the podium to tell their story. Almost every teacher that spoke had tears in her eyes as she talked about the years and years she had spent helping, supporting, and most importantly educating her “babies”. And every single teacher was African-American. Many of these women had grown up somewhere relatively close to where they now taught and knew the culture of their kids intimately.

I felt such a rush of pride knowing that I got to stand in solidarity with people from all walks of life and every neighborhood thanks to my choice of profession. Unlike my sister who is a doctor–one of those professions which “commands respect”–my profession puts me on equal footing with colleagues that our intensely unequal society says I shouldn’t even know. And I love it. Teaching spans class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in a way few other professions do.

Make no mistake, teaching to this day does not “command respect” because it is a traditionally female dominated profession and employs people of all races and classes. The lack of respect for teaching speaks to a deeply classist, racist, and sexist worldview that still cripples our nation. Which is why the types of qualities which make a great teacher: compassion, empathy, creativity, caring, humility are not valued.

I value those things. Those brilliant, talented, compassionate African-American women who have taught and inspired children for years are the ones being targeted for removal in my city. And districts today use TFA and other alternative certs, as a large pool of cheap, complaint labor. They are staffing the turnarounds and charters that go in the place of these closures.

Recently, Sabrina Stevens Shupe wrote an excellent piece entitled “'Bad' Women, Teachers, and Politics” which expands upon the idea that teaching is being demonized because it is a majority female profession

I would add that teaching is also a profession which allows people from a working-class background to move into the middle class. From the elite’s perspective, these women and minority supposedly "lower-class" people are considered “inferior”. When Teach for America or our politicians talk about bringing “better” people into the profession, I believe these assumptions are what they are (subconsciously or not) referring to. “Better” does not mean what’s best for the children they serve, but speaks to the perceived class and status of the profession. See more on the racist (and age-ist) termination policies being championed by corporate education reformers in this Huffington Post piece by Kenzo Shibata where he writes:
New staff at schools where drastic reform took place tends to be younger, more white, and less experienced. Teachers are also more likely to have provisional certifications... The percentage of African-American teachers at many schools dropped drastically, though the reforms took place in mostly black neighborhoods. The shakeups meant a 30, 40 even 60 percent reduction in African-American teachers at individual schools.

These numbers make me think that "reform" may be coded language for something pretty appalling.
Pretty appalling indeed. In fact, I would argue that too many of the “better” candidates being brought in through TFA and also being asked to staff charters and sometimes turnaround schools, are actually a terrible choice for the children they serve. Some of the best urban teachers I’ve ever seen, the ones who got those children to light up in the act of learning, who inspired kids to behave appropriately, who met the children where they were at, are the same ones being targeted for termination and being replaced by 20-something white women (or at least culturally upper-class, regardless of skin color) who know very little about the communities they are entering.

I truly believe I am on the right side of this debate. I believe it because I know the other side inside and out. I understand how the elite upper-class think in our country because I used to be one. Those TFA and charter proponents at that board meeting must have felt unwelcomed, uncomfortable, and outnumbered...and rightly so! Their elitist views are not what the people want. The people want reform that addresses the inequalities in school funding, housing, policing, and health care. They want reforms that acknowledge the institutional racism and classism holding children back. They want reform that supports the teaching profession as it is one of the few avenues left to the middle class for many families. Ultimately, they want fully-funded schools staffed with experienced professional teachers and all the resources the kids at New Trier get automatically. They want, once and for all, equality in education.

I love teaching. And I also love being a part of this vast people’s movement. I love that I can stand behind giants in civil rights like Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Rev Jesse Jackson, and Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union. I would not have it any other way.
(Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.)

24 comments:

  1. Great points. I read this today:
    Catalyst Chicago Mag ‏ @CatalystChicag

    (Karen) Lewis claims Rahm told her that 25% of the children in this city will never amount to anything, and he's not throwing more money at them

    Says it all about what ed deformer are all about.

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  2. Tch4.Us/gty you have great points and insights here that others should here. However, keep in mind that TFA is not a monolithic group and there exists many who share your values and reasoning.

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  3. Hi Katie,

    I actually found this article through a TFA post (how ironic). I am posting a link here so that you can respond to what the first year has to say:

    http://tonybonthemic.teachforus.org/2012/02/26/dont-hate-me-cause-im-tfa/

    I don't think that this TFA person read your entire post. You make some wonderful points; in fact, some of the reasons you posted are reasons why I left TFA and went into social work (which I enjoy much more anyway). I think it's great that you went to school to become a teacher and got the full experiences and training. From experience I can say that TFA does not do justice to the preparation that one receives over four years at a college institution, though I guess that would be glaringly obvious to anyone.

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    1. First, I'm pretty sure he's a second year, though you probably could have used that label just as condescendingly.

      Second, based on your response, I suspect that /you/ didn't read /his/ entire post. The point is that not all TFAers (probably not even an overwhelming majority, as is so often portrayed) are upper-class elitists, and indeed, many share the same concerns about the organizational approach as Ms. Katie, Diane Ravitch, et al. Nevertheless, I've found that critics who are willing to set aside their gut reaction to the organization as a whole and look into the drive, methods, and results of individual members often find their initial impression tempered. It's great that you enjoy social work much more than teaching, but many TFAers love teaching aren't half bad at it either.

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    2. Oh James, isn't everyone at least a little condescending online? ;-)

      I read both of these posts, and thought about them, and returned to them a day later and thought about them again. I thought about how hard this argument is, because I see it so often with everything. And anyhow, I think we are missing the point with the back and forth by taking it down to individual corps members' experiences and such, which is not what I am arguing about at all. What I am referring to and disagree with, and what I suspect Ms. Katie disagrees with (though I won't speak for her) is the overall message of the organization and how TFA has branded itself as a kind of corporate entity. This leads to TFA's more public stances on education reform, which many corps members may not agree with but nevertheless TFA promotes these perspectives (including the charter schools and school closings that Katie talked about in her post).

      You can list as many personal examples/stories as you want (and I like reading them!), that does not really change my opinion of how TFA as a /national/ organization has chosen to brand itself and present itself to the general public.

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    3. Corporate branding on the national level notwithstanding, my impression is that Ms. Katie genuinely believes that individual corps members are worse teachers for their students because, to paraphrase, they haven't been through traditional ed programs and come from elite, upper-class backgrounds. What I'm saying is that neither the "worse teacher" nor (partly) the "elite, upper-class" part of that statement is true, based on both personal experience and the research that I've read. I have no comment on the controversial perspectives you mentioned, because frankly, I just don't know enough yet.

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  4. As a current TFA corps member, this post leaves a lot to respond to. I love and respect your passion and enthusiasm and incredibly confident viewpoints, and I'm about to explore your blog more, but I do caution or question where all of your TFA information comes from. Our placements span from Chicago to Hawai'i to California and all places between, including TonyBontheMIC (above) and I in the rural Mississippi Delta. Here, things are vastly different than Chicago. While the organization isn't perfectly meeting Chicago needs (nor is any education prep program or university, clearly), I don't think TFA claims to be a savior (though I can understand how that comes off, how "we" come off, much of the time)-- I see us as more of a band-aid. And I think I've been messaged and trained by TFA that I am not saving anyone-- that I'm just one person that has a personal mission to attempt to affect a life trajectory. It's true that without TFA I'd have little interest in education and zero experience with under-served populations. And it's true that because of TFA I'm about to be a third year teacher with a passion for my craft and my kids. It sinks my heart to read that just because we're on an alternative path you might think "we" have separate views from you, that we don't want communities to partner with TFA, that we don't want students to have highly qualified teachers in front of them, that we don't want to "support the teaching profession as it is one of the few avenues left to the middle class for many families" ... I personally want all of these things. I don't know if it's unfortunate or not that my passion grew from an alternative certification program. I'm proud of the character I've developed, the compassion I exercise daily, and the experiences I've gathered directly as a result of Teach For America. Unlike you, I had no idea in my undergraduate studies that I might be a teacher. But thanks to Teach For America, it's an incredible starting point.

    I love most of what you say, but I think it's leaving a lot out. I want 800 million hours to think and respond and have a conversation...

    I'm also really curious about your background, specifically your comment about how you "understand how the elite upper-class think in our country because I used to be one." How easy is it to shake off the way you were raised? Aren't you closer to the TFA-ers than the excellent African American teachers you're proud of? Are you unqualified to be where you are because of your background? It's frightening that you judge so quickly on background and assumptions. Overhearing teachers in line or at an event hardly attests to what got them their position in TFA or, much more importantly, what they're doing with their kids or their communities. We care just as much, and if we're misguided I'd hope you'd attempt to partner with us before writing us off.

    I don't write many political or opinion-style blog entries quite as controversial as this (pro or anti TFA), but if you're interested in knowing more about my experiences or me, my blog is caroline.teachforus.org I found you via TonyBontheMIC, from the post linked in an above comment.

    Glad you've got such a spark, and it's genuinely interesting and provocative to read your views.

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    1. Caroline,

      Thank you for the comment. If TFA was still about filling actual teacher shortages, I wouldn't care so much. If there truly are not enough teachers in the Mississippi Delta, then I would say TFA is better than a string of subs. (Although I do wish those districts would address the underlying reasons why they can't get teachers to stay instead of relying on TFA.)

      Unfortunately, it seems to me that most TFA locales are not experiencing current teacher shortages and still TFA is looking to expand. The scariest part is that many TFA recruits do not realize they are taking jobs from veteran teachers. In Chicago, this has become the new status quo. Principals clear out their 2nd or 3rd year(pre-tenure)career teachers to make space for Teach for America to enter a building. How can a district justify mass layoffs like is happening in Chicago and still keep signing contracts with TFA? It makes no sense. Unless they have some other motive...

      I hope current and former CMs are pushing back on the organization when they learn that TFA is not needed in their area. Is this happening? Is anyone speaking out?

      And as for my background, as I said in the post, I grew up in an affluent town outside Chicago. When I decided to be an inner-city teacher, I went out of my way to prepare myself for the task so that I would bring something useful to the table. I have 6 years of teaching ESL experience, worked for nearly 3 years on a psychiatric unit as a behavior therapist in order to build my skills in special education, and got a dual certification in a Master's program at night in both elementary and special education including observing in countless Chicago schools and two student teaching placements. I don't think I'm the ideal candidate to work with inner-city kids, but I made damn sure I was bringing something more than just my privilege.

      TFA gets under my skin precisely because I know that could've been me. It was many of my friends and peers from high school.

      But I'm glad I somehow found my way into the battle for real reform--equitable funding, full and rich curriculum, addressing students' multiple needs, building an experienced teaching force, stopping the tide of privatization. Why do I never hear TFA folks fighting for THESE things? I only meet you all in the contexts like the one I described above. (Although, I have met a few folks who quit TFA or now speak actively against it out there.) Where are you guys in the rallys and the marches happening in so many cities? We are fighting to save our schools. Where is TFA?

      Hope that answers some of your questions. Keep debating! These are important issues.

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    5. My personal experience is that, both as a CM and as an alum, it's functionally impossible to push back in a meaningful way. It's basically "I'll pass on your concerns" and then no further communication. If you keep pressing, you get nothing but ice.

      I don't understand why TFAers will continue to defend the organization's behavior on the basis that "well, in X region we're doing good things," as though it's necessary for TFA to be in, say, Seattle in order to also be in South Texas. There is nothing - except lack of prestige and lack of information - stopping people from participating in regional alt cert programs that serve regions that are actually under-served. I hate the way TFA is being used to dismantle existing systems but leave nothing in their places, and the way they're playing CMs to make them complicit in corporate putsches.

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  5. Here's what I just posted on TonyBontheMIC's blog. Pretty interesting debate happening...

    "Hey TonyBontheMIC,

    I’m Katie, the one who wrote the blog post– I’m glad some CMs to are willing to discuss these issues. I appreciate this chance for debate.

    Honestly, I don’t care so much what individuals in the classroom are doing well after a few years to figure it all out. I’m sure many CMs make great teachers eventually, I just think it’s wrong that they get there by experimenting on other people’s children. And as a special education teacher, I am absolutely appalled that TFA places as many as 20% of corp members in special education placements. This is so ridiculously wrong, I can barely control my rage.

    I believe TFA does damage by its very design. And I will lump all who support it together. If you want me to work with TFA, then push the organization to change.

    Here’s my idea on what TFA could do so that it was actually helpful:

    TFA often claims that its purpose is to create “leaders” and not classroom teachers. If so, why not change the program so that the novices are ASSISTANT teachers to career teachers? Why throw these young people into the deep end to be the teacher of record with very little training especially now that most districts have no teacher shortages and in fact are experiencing teacher surpluses? Dedicated, hard-working teacher assistants in high-needs schools would be a god-send to many overwhelmed career teachers. TFA novices could learn about the system while engaging in tutoring, small-group lessons, helping with massive amounts of paperwork, and learning academic/behavioral interventions for students who struggle. Those who wished could enter a certification program to become career teachers, but those who did not choose teaching would not be doing damage while they prepared for other careers.

    TFA has a lot of money, they could be spending it differently than the crash-course that is Institute. There’s no reason to have uncertified novices teaching our neediest students, especially in special education, when there are large pools of experienced fully-trained teachers available. Plus, these young people’s drive could actually help career teachers stay in the classroom longer by sharing the immense workload. So, instead of exacerbating the already existing problem of high teacher turnover in low-income schools, TFA could change to become a part of the solution. Why doesn’t TFA do this??

    (Cont.)

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    1. (Cont.) Still, I think every CM should be skeptical on who TFA aligns itself with. It matters that Wendy Kopp and the organization are buddied up with the moneyed elites including billionaires, hedge fund managers, rich businessmen, wealthy politicians, and the big foundations like Gates and Broad. It matters that these are the same people who are trying to privatize public education and make a buck or two in the process. It matters that TFA’s friends support agendas that look very much like the Koch Brothers or any of the crazy Republican governors going after public education, teachers, and their unions. It matters that the whole reform debate is overrun with talk about “teacher quality” instead of addressing other more important things we CAN change if we tried, like fixing the gross funding inequalities within and between districts, creating better teaching environments to alleviate the high teacher turnover, having more enticements for strong teacher candidates to go into teaching like loan forgiveness, and greater teacher autonomy in the classroom instead of all this top-down NCLB ridiculousness. Neoliberalism has run wild in education and it is not good for kids.

      At end of the day, this question remains: would the high schools most TFAs graduated from ever allow a 1st year uncertified CM to teach in that school? If you think the answer would be “no”, if you think parents would be outraged that someone who had no experience or credentials was teaching their children–sometimes even their child with special needs–then how can it possibly be just to let them teach our poorest, and in many respects, neediest children?"

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  6. Katie, you talk about TFA being a 1% elite thing for the wealthy, but in my mind it has the potential to be the exact opposite. I'm not trying to argue in favor of TFA. I agree with some of the TFA issues you talk about and have mixed feelings on them (and sped just seems like a bad area for TFA). But...

    The traditional college/grad school certification path is the wealthy one. How much does it cost an individual in their 20's or 30's to go each route? I'm someone in my late 20's post college, working a full time job. The thought of going back to school in order to become a teacher has crossed my mind many times. The reality though is that I can't afford it. I can't afford the tuition to a grad school program, I can't afford the inability to get adequate health insurance.

    On the other hand, TFA and similar programs may offer a path to teaching at a lower cost. Something that I and other lower & middle class folks could realistically, financially handle.

    In your mind, the only "right" way to become a teacher seems to be the most expensive route. You seem to support a world of teaching that is comprised of people that decided to teach at 18 years old or people that are wealthy enough to afford full traditional college tuition as a working adult. How is that not the wealthy/elitist viewpoint?

    Serious question- What route do you recommend post-college lower & middle class folks take to become a teacher?

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    1. There are some cases where an alternative path might make sense, and there are some alternative programs which actually do a good job of preparing people before they are on their own. Still, except for the few good alt programs out there, I do not believe people should be relying on these as entry to the profession. If you are serious about helping children, please put the time and the money in first. Do your research about the amount of practical training programs give. Take night classes, apply for scholarships, spend as many years as it takes, be sure to study a field or teach in a school which qualifies for loan forgiveness. There are other options.

      However, unlike most alt cert programs, TFA is not about growing career teachers so most never make up for the terrible teaching of their first year. Also, most are not career changers, but young college grads so they don't even have life experience under their belt. But as I said before, my biggest beef with TFA is who they align themselves with.

      Besides, think about what having all these alternative routes to teaching means? If I really felt called to medicine, should I be allowed to take a short cut? A surgeon in just 5 weeks? If I thought I would be a wonderful lawyer, can I just by-pass law school? I taught (as an ASSISTANT English teacher)for many years in Japan. They would never let an educator enter the field without training. I do not understand why we allow this in the US. And the same people who rave about Teach for America also complain about teacher quality! Being unprepared to teach sure seems like a poor quality teacher for any student.

      Alt cert teachers are very common in low-income schools but you almost never see them in more affluent districts. All kids deserve a fully prepared teacher.

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  7. Hey KatieO. I just posted this on my blog (http://tonybonthemic.teachforus.org/2012/02/26/dont-hate-me-cause-im-tfa/)

    "Thanks for responding with your thoughts here. I’m amazed because we actually share a common feeling about the potential for change within TFA. My thing is that there are “simple” steps TFA could take to improve but right now, it does not have strong enough incentives to do so.

    “TFA often claims that its purpose is to create “leaders” and not classroom teachers. If so, why not change the program so that the novices are ASSISTANT teachers to career teachers? Why throw these young people into the deep end to be the teacher of record with very little training especially now that most districts have no teacher shortages and in fact are experiencing teacher surpluses?
    First of all, I agree for the most part. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to City Year, which does exactly what you outlined. After nearly two years in the classroom, I too have concluded that: “dedicated, hard-working teacher assistants in high-needs schools would be a god-send to many overwhelmed career teachers.” I don’t know whether TFA will move to a two-tiered system because outside of New York, many districts do still have shortages, and the economic recovery will likely exacerbate this unfortunately. At the same time, it’s a less logical, tougher sell to claim to create “leaders” when you are actually an assistant. I know that there are City Year corps members who go on to TFA and it would be interesting to see how they do. Again, TFA would have to reevaluate itself and this would be a major shift. As of right now, TFA is a band-aid in many communities but I still believe it is a part of the solution, despite its flaws. Still, it’s only a part and you may be rubbed the wrong way because the corporate image can sometimes come across as being THE solution rather than a piece. Why? Well, likely since it is more compelling for raising money. At the same time, there are other organizations that are leadership pipelines and they are doing amazing work. TFA’s just kind of in the middle.

    “Still, I think every CM should be skeptical on who TFA aligns itself with.”

    True. Though as a society, we need to reevaluate the link between corporate America and the non-profit sector. That’s not to say that making money is bad, far from it, but it’s a weird dynamic. TFA’s just really good at messaging and perhaps it’s position as a prolific fundraiser is something we can all learn from.

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    1. Continued.

      “It matters that the whole reform debate is overrun with talk about “teacher quality” instead of addressing other more important things we CAN change if we tried, like fixing the gross funding inequalities within and between districts, creating better teaching environments to alleviate the high teacher turnover, having more enticements for strong teacher candidates to go into teaching like loan forgiveness, and greater teacher autonomy in the classroom”

      I was drawn to TFA in part because these are issues I can focus on when I become an alumnus. At the same time, it’s a fine line because you have to be careful when you say that schools are failing because the kids are poor. WE want to elevate kids out of poverty and elevate teaching as a profession but haven’t yet reached a point where we can have this more intelligent debate. And this “we” includes both non-TFAers and TFA. I have yet to speak to a corps member who doesn’t believe that we need to fix the inequalities and create more supportive environments for teachers. If such a CM exists, he would not be a friend of mine. Blaming teachers for poverty is dumb, just as blaming kids for poverty is dumb.

      “At end of the day, this question remains: would the high schools most TFAs graduated from ever allow a 1st year uncertified CM to teach in that school?”

      Agreed. And the question that follows is how can we improve the schools TFA is in so that “one day” no corps members are necessary? As you said, it goes back to funding, support, professional development, and incentives (not necessarily merit pay). Again, this is something TFA alumni are working towards I just wish there was less of an emphasis on doing these things in charters and more so on infusing traditional public schools with these aspects of success. Thanks for sharing your insight, and I hope we can remain engaged in dialogue in the future."

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  8. I am an adjunct at Fordham University who works with CMs in the Bronx. I am a traditionally trained teacher who taught in HS for 38 years, 16 of which were in the Bronx, where I grew up (as a “White Shadow”).

    Last July at the SOS Rally and Conference I ran a workshop re:TFA. This MArch 31st I will lead a teach-in at Occupy DOE DC . I hope al of you join me and join in.

    So I will keep this brief.

    I despise TFA…the organization.

    I don’t see TFA disappearing easily without alternative solutions to increasing teacher shortages and budget mandates from DOE.

    Therefore we must work HARD to get it to fix itself…if we can. If not, then we work to get rid of it…BY OFFERING BETTER SOLUTIONS.

    We must find those within it who KNOW it is deeply flawed to work to fix its training process and its expectations of CMs.

    After working with 20 CMs over the past 4 years, I can honestly agree that it is ok to hate TFA the organization, not only for what it does to districts, teachers and children, but also what it does to its own CMs, but not to hate the CMs.

    Every single CM, good or bad, I have encountered was there to work, to teach, and to nurture their kids. We must recruit them to fight back against the machine.

    For more, please read my blogs on TFA
    @ http://dcgmentor.com/ and come to Washington DC 3/30-4/2.

    Join me in the crusade to make things work better.

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  9. Well, I'll leave the criticism to you, Katie. As for me, I'll just keep teaching the students who, before I got here thanks to TFA, were being taught by a permanent sub three years running and scoring in the lowest percentile in the state. You can blog, and I'll keep making sure that my kids achieve their projected scores, far above the state average. This will allow them to be the first class in four years that will have a majority of students receiving diplomas and thus going to college.

    You can call it anecdotal, but by doing that, you completely devalue the chances my kids now have, passing the state test, being able to graduate, and thus getting to college. I'd hate to think that you'd do that to my students.

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    1. Thank you for your comment (and criticism).

      Please do keep teaching your best. And I will continue to push back on an organization that is contributing to the dismantling of the teaching profession as well as our public education system. When I see a gross injustice happening, like condemning low-income children to uncertified, untrained teachers (or indeed to a string of long-term subs), I feel compelled to speak out. (It's all part of the same ethos, that we can't afford anything better for "those" kids, that it's ok to shaft low-income minority children. We would certainly figure out a better way than TFA to fill teacher shortages in the schools that serve affluent communities. But not for our poorest students.)

      Like I've said before, I suppose there are still a few places out there with actual teacher shortages where TFA serves as a weak bandaid. Fine, I can see that, even if I wish those districts would work to change whatever it is that is either driving teachers away or not enticing them to come work there.

      I guess I would just point out--not sure if you noticed this--that you talk a lot about test scores as a measure of success. I know that TFA, like many in the corporate reform movement, place heavy emphasis on those all-important test scores. And yes, these days the scores are tied to pretty high-stakes like high school graduation. I personally do not believe those scores should have so much power in a student's or a teacher's life. I would encourage you to just be mindful about too much talk of a "projected score" or "passing the state test". And I'm sure you do think more of your kids and that you do really care about them, but when you commented on them, the TFA-speak came out a little bit.

      I see that I hit a chord with you and maybe that is because, deep down, you know that TFA is indeed deeply flawed and not part of the answer to improving education for all children. QUESTION EVERYTHING (yes, even critics like me!) But please, do not just bury your head in the sand and accept what you've been told. Please do not just focus on your classroom without asking the bigger, vital questions! Research, debate, and think about what our education system actually needs. And then ask yourself if TFA is providing that.

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    2. Matt, you should try multitasking. Beyond the short preparation and the conviction that the solution to terrible poverty is a lot of young, predominantly affluent and predominantly white people, we actually have a lot in common.

      We all teach in systems that are designed to fail the kids we love and care for. We are all susceptible in these terrible conditions to scapegoating each other and blaming students, parents and educators for massive systemic problems. Many of us got into the system with some understanding of these dynamics and sought to change them.

      The difference is that after 18 months, the education activists decided to stay, teach and to fight against this system. The TFA teachers, in general, quit and never teach another young person while being richly compensated to fight against the people who stay in the classroom supporting kids.

      I hope you are different. Each individual has agency. I work with a former TFA teacher who is in his fifth year teaching. He's a little too reliant on inaccurate testing for data for my tastes, but the range of error is less with his AP classes, so it probably works out. The problem is that he's treated as a some sort of grand master in the TFA crowd because he's actually in the classroom. Nevermind the brilliant 30 year teacher who teaches in the next classroom.

      When you realize that test scores are not enough for the kids, and you want to do more, please choose the classroom. We would love to work with you.

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