Teach for America: Helping or Hindering?

Posted: May 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

I read the following article about Teach for America recruits making their way to Baltimore’s schools:

170 Teach for America Teachers Coming to Baltimore

Then I started to wonder about the benefits and drawbacks of having brand new teachers from other parts of the country being placed in Baltimore’s high-needs schools.

First, who exactly are these Teach for America folks?

Basically, TFA recruits are required to have a bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 GPA and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Applicants who meet those requirements are not guaranteed a spot: Teach for America is very competitive.

Check out the link below to see the detailed, official admission requirements for Teach for America.

Teach for America Admission Requirements

Now many TFA teachers do go on to do awesome things. For example, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin went through the Teach for America program before founding their academies. They have made a great impact in the world of education. On the other hand though, I wonder how many teachers eventually change professions?

According to the TFA website, “37 percent of our alumni work outside the field of education.” I’m wondering, can these new recruits really hack teaching in inner cities? Also, are some teachers forced to leave to make way for these novice TFA teachers?

This article was written in 2007, but I think the argument still rings true today:

Teach for America: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?

Here is a quote from the above article:

“But critics say the growth in many cities is coming at the expense of experienced teachers who are losing their jobs — in some cases, they say, to make room for TFA, which brings in teachers at beginners’ salary levels and underwrites training.”

Also, according to the above article, “overall only 29% of alumni are still in the classroom.” I bet many of them are disillusioned when they actually step foot in the classroom, just like the English teacher in the HBO documentary, Hard Times at Douglass High (not that he was a TFA member). I would think it would be more effective to hire teachers who live in or at least near the community where they teach, so they do not experience culture-shock that will overwhelm them and cause them to change professions. Thoughts?

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Comments
  1. a parent says:

    I’m not sure why living “near” a community makes for any less culture shock. Do you think that there’s some sort of connection between a Garrison Forest graduate and Baltimore Freedom Academy students? I would think that geography is less important than socieo-economic identity. Beyond that, I wonder if the idea of bringing in teachers from different cultures might be good for a student. In a real life job you are going to have to deal with all worts of different types of folks.

    • mdeducator81 says:

      I think bringing in teachers from other cultures & backgrounds is great if they are committed and prepared for the realities of an urban community. Teach for America seems like it is more about helping college graduates to gain leadership skills to put on their resume. I say this because in the FAQ on their website there is a question that asks:

      “Is it possible for me to work in fields other than education after my two years as a corps member?”

      The response is:

      “Yes. 37 percent of our alumni work outside the field of education. In fact, leading employers and top-ranking graduate programs value these unique experiences…”

      A program called “Teach for America” should really be about creating lifelong, passionate, quality educators. What’s the point of sending a brand new educator to teach in an urban school for 2 years and then having them turn around and leave the field of education? Who benefits there?

  2. Joe says:

    Thanks for your post! I thought you might be interested in the Facebook group I created in 2008 to raise awareness about the Urban Teacher Residency model of teacher preparation: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10229115973. You do not need a Facebook account to access its resources. You may also be interested in Urban Teacher Residency United (http://www.utrunited.org/), a not-for-profit umbrella organization that helps guide and support teacher residency programs.

    Best,

    Joe

  3. As a 2010 incoming corps member I do understand the concerns listed above about corps members. Teach For America fills its ranks with fresh, young, idealistic, and at some times naïve persons from well to do backgrounds. This obviously lends itself to a culture shock when these individuals step into a community far different than their own. However Teach For America takes this criticism to heart and annually readjusts their programming and training to reflect the massive issues faced by last year’s corps members.
     
    In preparing for induction and institute (the 6 week training TFA has its incoming corps members complete) we are required to read an over 500 page document detaining the specific issues of race, class, and “culture shock” encountered by previous corps members as recent as Fall 2009 in addition to countless hours before our traditional training, teaching ourselves in curriculum materials etc. Part of this discussion within the organization is on strategies to overcome the barriers often faced within districts and school communities.
     
    I am a non-traditional Corps member and frequently blog about my TFA experience at (http://www.tfaadventure.com) where I also express similar views as I am now. I graduated last year in 2009. I’ve been working in the state in which I graduated from high school and college. I worked full time as a nanny to pay the bills and by no means come from the privilege background many of my peers who are in the corps have behind them. Yet I am teaching in the same community to which I currently live and am raising my family. I think that I am uniquely qualified to understand the frustration veteran teachers have towards these wet behind the ears youth coming in while their peers with over 10 years of experience, with mortgages, families, and with children are being laid off.
     
    The problem here however isn’t TFA teachers getting jobs it is veteran teachers getting laid off. Study after study has shown that TFA Teachers are just as effective if not more effective than their traditional or more senior peers especially in the subjects of Math and Science. Lets be honest here: a single 23 year old with the support of a multi-million dollar organization and countless time/ resources at her disposal most likely would make more of an impact than a veteran 15 year teacher who’s been there and done that. What we need to be focusing on is making veteran teachers work more like TFA teachers in terms of giving them the same support and critical training focused on practical/clinical outcomes.
     
    Districts for their part are doing what they see as an inexpensive route to boost their scores and in an effort to get more funding in the light of drastic cuts in monies. That is what’s resulting in the layoffs NOT Teach For America’s existence. The program is effective but lessons need to be learned from it that can be applied to the traditional methods of teaching in order to avoid the negative feelings that have grown toward the organization that are built on professional jealousy rather than gains in student achievement   

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