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  • observing philadelphia

    Thanks for that response. How can you get your notes to me? I'm very interested to read your observations and gain further insight into that extraordinary confluence of educational brilliance, which probably would be unusual in any school.
    I've observed also that there clearly are various agendas being served in the furor over public education today, and I won't inflict my opinions on anyone in that regard. Much of it appears to be aimed at either justifying or obscuring the cause of governmental intervention 'way back in the last decade, followed by predictably(?) disastrous results (test-score cheating being the most visible). To my way of thinking, this latter is the ultimate argument-stopper. And it was (is) a phenomenon I believe to be far more widespread than just in the schools that got "caught." "Can you say, 'crisis'?"

  • beeme

    She mentions having joined TFA in 1999. If the organization was any good at all, it would have been back then. If it was any good at all, it used to be. It is garbage now. Moreover, any teacher training program that last one month is a farce!

  • Nathan Wartooth

    Until we recognize that there are real biological differences between the races there will be no progress.

    What works for Asians might not work for Africans and what works for Europeans might not work for Latinos.

    We are trying to create one big behemoth tent that covers every race when we should be working on developing many smaller tents for each race. We must also realize that every race isn't going to do as well as others no matter what you do. When you drop the goal of trying to make Africans score as well as Asians then you can start just trying to raise African test scores instead of being obsessed with the "achievement gap".

  • os50001

    In any classroom anywhere, children are implicitly pleading for, or consciously daring, any teacher not to bore them. What really carries the day in any classroom is *gravitas,* both in depth of subject-matter (which children respect) and in personal characteristics, one's humanity constantly being visible. Love and valuing of children is essential. Teaching is not a "job," it should be a profession requiring deep learning, not just a smattering of pedagogy.
    There's no way a twenty-something, being thrown into a totally unfamiliar world can find, exhibit, or even know what is meant by gravitas. The creator of the Haarlem Children's Zone, Canaday, spoke at Penn's graduation 2012, saying: "We want you to to come and work with us----- But not just yet: you need to get a few years on you, first." That pretty much sums it up. He didn't say, "You need to go and get a teaching degree, first" He meant the getting of worldly experience and reflection upon that experience. Getting a perspective. Getting some understanding of the community you're thinking about teaching, just as Camika Royal is saying: "interrogating what lies beneath what we see in schools."
    And what lies beneath, is tremendous talent/intelligence, tremendous struggle, tremendous heart, and I found, personally, tremendous sweetness of character beneath a tough or affectless front. Coming to see these things is an immensely valuable personal experience. But it is not obtained passively, or vicariously.

    • Ciceronian

      "There's no way a twenty-something, being thrown into a totally unfamiliar world, can find, exhibit, or even know what is meant by gravitas."

      Are you basing your statements on empirical evidence or theory? I was in four classrooms being led by Teach For America teachers in their seconds years just yesterday and I observed engaging lessons on a variety of topics ranging from Nelson Mandela to social justice to cultural explorations. Each lesson and each classroom environment was charged with *gravitas,* as you say. I'd be happy to send you my observation notes if you'd like empirical data.

      I'm not saying there aren't things to criticize about Teach For America, and I'm not saying every Teach For America teacher is flawless (just as not every traditional teacher is flawless.) What I am saying is that I tire of people throwing theoretical critiques around about the impossibility of recent college grads succeeding or excelling in the classroom without ever having set foot in the classroom of a TFA teacher to see what may or may not be happening.

      • philafilly

        Ciceronian, there are exceptions to every rule and exceptions to every opinion that each of us holds. If, indeed, four TFA teachers in their 2nd year (did you ask them how they felt they did in their first year?) were able to teach with confidence, and I would hope, flair, I'm the first to celebrate that, and I would, indeed be interested to see your notes--which is imperative, as they are your empirical observations. I'm not a party to the TFA debate: I'm interested in the whole question of poor teaching and how it can be improved. As for my statement's predominate truth, I point back again to Geoffrey Canada's assessment of fresh college grads' readiness for teaching.

        • Ciceronian

          Thanks for a principled, thoughtful reply. I find these increasingly rare in discussions around this topic, so it's refreshing.

          Certainly the first year was a struggle (to varying degrees) for each of the four corps members I referenced. But I would contend that the first year is a struggle regardless of the road you take. I myself am in the unique position of having been through both Teach For America's programming and through a traditional teacher preparation program that included a full practicum, student teaching term, etc. The ratio of teachers who struggled (and in many cases ultimately were not rehired, or chose to pursue another career track) in their first year coming out of the graduate program to teachers coming out of Teach For America was more or less identical.

          What's crucial is your point about "the whole question of poor teaching and how it can be improved," that's absolutely key.

          In the same way that too many "reformers" have come to education with "silver bullet" mindsets and proposals, too many participants in the debate around education think they've singled out the ultimate culprit: TFA, charter schools, unions, government, etc etc etc.

          The reality, as you implied, is that teacher retention and low quality teaching are systemic issues; people conflate broad education issues (especially teacher preparation and long-term retention) with TFA issues far too often in their efforts to discredit the organization.

  • mykeyd1

    This era in our nation's history will be remembered as one of pervasive dissemblance. We have a president who ran to the left of FDR but governs to the right of Nixon. We have moneyed interests that tout their philanthropic activities as being devoted only to the good of children of color but whose actual goal is the hijacking of public money in order to enrich themselves even more. The Walton, Gates, and Arnold foundations, Rupert Murdoch's Pearson and Wireless Generation and other companies and vulture philanthropic foundations say they are interested in improving education but their fixes only serve to enrich their patrons.
    After 25 years in the classroom the picture looks much different to me and to many carreer educators; education will only improve by lowering class size, suppprting the whole child and family, making funding equitable among schools and empowering teachers to run schools. All of my suggestions put more money under the control of educators and this is what the deformers fear the most.
    One last point. As a person of color who graduated from a highly-ranked west coast college, I am struck by the fact that TFA is almost uniformly white, upper class and eastern. Wendy Kopp lies when she claims that TFA is among the institutions that supply Black and Latino career educators to our public schools. Our state institutions do that job and do it well. TFA represents the "new colonialism" in which the wealthy, under the guise of doing good are setting it up so that they can do quite well in hijacking the resources dedicated to the education of young people of color. This is what puts our nation's future in danger.

  • Shaun Johnson

    TFA should be dissolved, immediately, and with extreme prejudice.

  • mreilly

    I'm a fellow TFA alumna, and I think it's worth highlighting one of TFA's critical objectives: to prepare corps members to be lifelong advocates of improving educational outcomes for children. After a corps experience, alumni can advocate for children regardless of the profession they pursue--whether they become teachers, lawyers, doctors, superintendents, mayors, consultants or college professors. Because of TFA, we now have a network of 32,000 individuals who understand more about education and ensuring children succeed and who have some investment in identifying and promoting best practices for student achievement. I can't help but notice that Dr. Royal is no longer a classroom teacher. Nor am I. But does that mean we aren't advocating for what our kids need? Does that mean we aren't bringing educational issues to the forefront of our civil discourse, where it needs to be? Does that mean that we don't consider the needs of children in every professional and personal decision? Clearly Dr. Royal and countless other TFA alumni have found ways to impact educational equity without standing in front of a classroom. It's complicated work, but I'm thankful for the growing network of folks who care.

  • Laura Zax

    What programs out there in the public school system do you feel are addressing those structural issues? How do you feel about the City Year model?


  • cassie.shott

    It is my belief that Teach For American should function in a different way. I have been a teacher for 9 years. I would be much more effective in a struggling school that a first year teacher would be. Why doesn't TFA take teachers like me and send us to these struggling schools and put the first year teachers in schools that are less at risk? These new teachers would benefit from the experience of working in a system that works and with teachers that are experts rather than clustering them for a short term in places that remain broken. The students would benefit from experienced educators and those experienced educators are in a better place to change school culture and by extension, change the system.

    • Richard Brown-Hernandez

      That is a great suggestion. Speaking honestly, I do not believe that enough educators at less at risk schools would leave their school to serve those that are struggling.

    • LuisaS

      Since you're already certified to teach, why don't you go to one of those schools yourself?

  • Kadi Franson

    I'm not so familiar with TFA - but is the main criticism the duration of time committed to schools during recruitment tenures? I can understand skepticism about two years being too short to implement lasting change in the education system, but in terms of the potential to impact a student - two years, one year, one month, one day, maybe even hours ... you don't need that much time to impact a student. I remember a visiting instructor whom I spent 4 classes with as a freshman in high school - those 4 classes with her provided a unique window into what I perceived as a completely alternative approach to being. I lived in small town America, a predominantly white, factory economy, with a population of less that 10,000. Most girls in our school aspired to marry their sweetheart and have a family, with best case scenarios riding on that factory job. This woman was like a window into another life. I will never forget her and I have no doubt that her brief crossing with my fifteen year old self had some small part in the case I built to leave that town. Let's work for solutions together. Instead of lambasting and undermining what could be some form of solution, albeit imperfect, how about proposing redesigns and reinforcements to make it better?

  • Valerie J.

    I am to join TFA in Detroit fall 2014. I have questioned the preparation versus the responsibility that will be expected of me. Perhaps because I am older and experienced with a diverse background I can provide insight that will be useful.

  • Beth Thrasher

    ...and I'm a public school teacher.

  • worcestersauce

    "Great teachers" will not fix the societal issues that have caused the collapse of our educational system. Of course, great teachers are essential to having great schools, but as previously stated by other commenters, teachers can only do so much. Anyone who claims that a great teacher is the ultimate solution for our educational system's problems has either never been a teacher in the classroom or has been out of the classroom for so long that he has forgotten what it is like. Poverty and government policies have created the collapse of our system. This collapse, along with overprotective unions and poor teacher preparation programs, has led to a decrease in the quality of teaching. Yes, there are many bad teachers. But, there are also many great teachers. There are also many teachers who used to be great but, after years of having to be teacher, parent, brother, mentor, counselor, and policeman, have burnt out and lost the ability to give it their all.

    If you've never been a teacher, no explanation of the mental and emotional struggle will do justice to the daily grind. Imagine trying to climb Mt. Everest in flip flops while carrying 120 people on your back and being attacked by mountain lions. Then, when you don't make it to the top, everyone blames you. That's what it feels like everyday. Are there teachers who don't care? Of course. Should those teachers go? You bet. But, for every one of those apathetic placeholders, there are a dozen other people who are trekking up the side of that mountain as hard as they can, braving the wind and the rain and the beastly attacks.

    Our teacher preparation should be revamped across the board. Our educational funding structure should be revamped across the board. Disenfranchised neighborhoods should be revitalized, food deserts given oases, government corruption eradicated, and parents educated on how to advance their child's education and held accountable for providing support.

    Is TFA the solution? No. But why not focus on what the solution is instead of what the solution isn't? So many people want to bash on what someone else is doing without providing any solutions. While many critiques of TFA have merit, at least TFA is trying to do SOMETHING. Is it the real solution? No. Is it any type of solution? I don't know. At least it's trying in a world in which most just want to point fingers from a distance or have ignorant albeit well-intentioned conversations without ever breaking a sweat.

    • James Deavoll

      Teachers have been combination "teacher, parent, brother, mentor, counselor, and policeman" for years. That's the job description. If you're not prepared to do the job, in all its frustrating complexity, then leave the profession. On my first day in the classroom, back in 2001, an incredible teacher with 30+ years experience who became my mentor told me flat out: teaching usually doesn't make it into even the top five daily priorities; it's what you do AFTER you've played social worker, therapist, and surrogate parent. My students NEED me to be more than simply an educator, and to refuse them the support that they need due to some petulant insistence that the roles don't mesh with a preconceived notion of 'teaching' does more damage than good. Again, that's the job. If you don't like it; leave.

      • worcestersauce

        One more thing that I forgot...

        I also don't mean to imply that failure is ok. I just think that placing blame--in this case, on the teachers--has become an easy way for people to deal with their frustrations with the situation as a whole. I agree with the majority of society who believes that our educational system is failing our students.

        Perhaps, at the end of it all, what I am really doing is grappling with the guilt and helplessness that I often feel when my students fail. I want them to do well, and when they don't, I feel responsible, yet, resent that responsibility at the same time, wanting society and my students' communities to do a better job just as I want myself to do a better job. 'Tis a virtually inarticulable frustration with which I'm sure you are familiar.

      • worcestersauce

        No need to be angry, James. Perhaps I wasn't clear in why I made that statement / that statement seems to have hit a nerve with you for some reason. Allow me to clarify:

        I in no way deny that a teacher is more than a teacher. My issue is with that fact that when students fail or otherwise don't meet the expectations that we/society have for them, teachers are blamed for the shortcomings of everyone else in the students lives. I have no idea in what type of situation you teach, so I can only speak about my own...I teach--and have always taught--in very intense inner city environments, a choice that I have consciously made, so please don't take that as complaining. Anyway, many of my students have virtually NO support at home, and what little support they do have mostly seems to be surface level to save face. On top of that, their hitherto quality of schooling has left them years behind in the requisite skills needed to do well as high school students and beyond. I have no problem with wearing multiple hats; I do it all day everyday, and I can humbly say that I believe that I do it quite well most days. My problem is with the fact that, in many cases, the teacher is the only one wearing many of those hats. Again, only speaking from my personal experience, I work very hard every single day to provide my students with the best possible education (both academic and otherwise) that I can provide, and still, at the end of it all, some kids aren't successful for myriad reasons, many of which are out of my and their control.

        I guess the point that I wanted to make is that there are teachers who are working very hard to play all of those roles that you and I mentioned, climbing Mt. Everest in flip flops, if you will, but they still fail, and they fail often. With so many factors to be considered in the lives of our students, failure doesn't mean that the teacher is automatically to blame. Are they partially to blame? Sure. Are they sometimes wholly responsible? Yes. But, I feel as though blaming the teacher has become the easy explanation, even the scapegoat for systemic problems of poverty, disenfranchisement, food insecurity, historical racism in the housing market, and many others.

        Not sure if that eases your frustration with my statements, but hopefully it makes a little more sense.

  • smdunk

    I am concerned that this article sights almost no data to back up some serious claims. Yes, people need to check their motivations for choosing their careers. I am tired of hearing a bunch of corps member opinions on what they like and don't like about this organization. At the end of the day, you are either making a difference in your students' achievement levels or not. Everything else is just philosophical and theoretical nonsense. Let's focus a little more on the impact we are having as educators and less on self-serving opinions.

  • Lani Horn

    This is one of the most nuanced, intelligent pieces i have read on this issue. BUT -- what got me to stop nuancing TFA was the contracts they have with urban school districts that require districts to provide a certain number of slots for their TFA teachers.

    In our district (metro nashville), principals are told to fill teacher vacancies in schools with Title 1 students first by displaced teachers, then TFA -- and only then *certified teachers* who hadn't yet worked in the district. That is just plain wrong, and it's creating a disincentive for teachers to get credentialed, learn to work skillfully with urban (and other) students, and become contributors to students and communities that could benefit from the stability that career professionals provide.

    • Dave Greene

      I hope you read these and can comment on them.

  • Yevette Jackson

    Our society has become a silver bullet solution society. The American education system did not become this way over night and it will not be fixed with a one size fits all solution. It is easy to point your finger and place blame. It is much harder to roll up your sleeves and begin to work on systemic change. TFA is not the reason urban schools are in trouble and it is not the solution to all of America's education woes. Come to the table with ideas to help improve a broken system and be willing to collectively work on sustainable solution.

  • Sharon Turcotte

    It's become too easy to blame the teacher (and by extension, TFA who recruits and trains teachers) for all education woes. I was a teacher before I joined TFA and I'm a teacher with the program now. I've taught in 3 different countries in rural and urban districts.

    There are systemic inequalities in the American Education system that a teacher has no control over. There is no amount of, nor any style, of teaching that can practically and ubiquitously overcome these circumstances (miracles aside) with any reliability (and therefore scalability). Common core objectives, word walls, portfolios, benchmark testing... all of these initiatives are just bandaids on gaping wounds, a scrabbling attempt to maximize a teacher's efficiency in the hopes that by "putting an outstanding teacher in every classroom the achievement gap will disappear." But what this easy-to-sell strategy fails to recognize is that there is only so much a teacher can do; children are affected in equal parts by parents and by government policies.

    I think it's time we as a society put our money where are mouths are and address what is - make no mistake - a FUNDING and OPPORTUNITY gap between rich and poor districts. By no means should be settle for less-than-great teachers, but we should not kid ourselves that universally great teaching will be the panacea to end all societal woes. (For that matter, It may not even be reasonably attainable as great teaching remains to be difficult to quantify, prove, or reliably measure.)

    • kmatt

      Thank you so much for saying this! The teacher is ALWAYS blamed but government and parents have an equal impact on our kids' education. It only works when all THREE are in sync.

    • acjay

      Thank you, well said! I'm a TFA alum as well. I only stayed two years, but it's not because I viewed the program as a stepping stone. I burnt out, pure and simple. Today, I have a far less stressful life making more money as an engineer. That is absurd, because teaching is by far the more difficult job, and I try hard to make people who haven't experienced it understand what we as a society are doing to our students and educators.

      TFA certainly is an imperfect organization, but I feel like its becoming the main focus of criticism, not the fact that the whole reason it came about was to try to bridge the gap between the two Americas. I feel like instead of reinforcing the inadequate bridge, people are trying to torch it. Meanwhile the fact that our policies towards education, criminal justice, and social services systematically reinforce the gap.

      • gladystiffany

        It's a good point, acjay, about the value of bridging the gap between the 2 America's. And it brings up the deep flaw in the system I see many of these posts referring to. Everyone knows "the system" doesn't work and need to be changed. Nobody can agree on what and how to change this system. I'd like to respectfully submit that it's impossible to over-emphasize how significant is the lack of respect of the rich part of America for the poor part of America, in this system. The lack of respect that equates to racism, classism, and all the "isms" that bedevil us have a much deeper impact on the unworkability of our overall system then we seem to be able to understand. Determined work on developing practices of respect and care for one another, no matter which part of America we identify with, would make a huge impact on how our educational system functions.

  • Jose Vilson

    Though TFA is the most prominent of the programs, we need to look at any and all alternative certification programs with a more critical lens, especially since so many of them vary in ultimate mission. The mission is, for all intents and purposes, to assure that all students have expert / experienced teachers in front of them, ones that aren't just learning how to teach for those first couple of years. TFA has a large role to play in why the modal years of experience for K-12 teachers is down to 1, and must be held accountable henceforth. Having such a high turnover is not sustainable, and perpetuates inequity with other districts whose teachers stay and whose parents expect an expert teacher in front of their child. Thank you for this, Camika.

    • Camika Royal

      I agree with you, Jose. I also think we need to look at schools of education. More preparation time doesn't necessarily mean better quality or more prepared teachers, although it may.