Saturday, July 17, 2010

TFA - Missionary work in Public Schools

A debate is now on going about Teach for America in the New York Times. Stroll on by and see how this is shaping up.
Two programs are currently in widespread use that encourage people to join the teaching profession. Both seem noble and worthwhile on the surface but send worrisome messages when looked at in 3-D and surround sound.
They are Career Switcher programs and Teach for America.
First off, I want to admit that both of these programs have resulted in teachers who are quite excellent in the classroom. That's my disclaimer. I know some of these people and they are wonderful.
The problem, however, lies in the underlying message of TFA and Career Switcher program: Teachers are Born and not Made. And that is where I find fault with the general principle of the two working programs--AND with the way our traditionally prepared teachers are thrust into the intense work of working with children.
First, both programs let adults take command of a classroom after a brief preparation program in the summertime. Secondly, the new recruit has a full time load that they must then balance with further course work in evenings and weekends. This is essentially two full time jobs.
Finally, many of new teachers flame and burnout in short order. If not in the middle of the first year (and I've seen that happen memorably in recent years) then more often by the end of the second year.
Here's my problem: It implies that it is OK to experiment this way with children's lives. Ultimately, it's the students who will suffer if a year of instruction is lost due to a poorly performing teacher or the disruption caused by teacher turnover.
The two programs have been offered as a panacea to teacher shortages.
It is the wrong fix to reforming teaching.
The exact opposite view of teaching needs to be assumed by those who want to see real reform in public education. Current fixes imply that teaching is so approachable that "anyone can do it." Or that there are only so many good teachers out there, and we just need to throw enough of them at the wall and see how many stick.
If we want a stable, effective teaching force then we need to do the heavy lifting of supporting and building that workforce. This would mean strong mentoring programs in schools that provide any novice teacher - adequate access to master teachers and resources during their working days. It means a basic restructuring of how our schools work. It means ensuring that a year of a child's life is not left to chance.
We know that a year with one bad teacher can set a child back two years. Do we care about that or not?
We also know that the worst performing schools have the highest number of transient teachers. The programs described here do nothing to help stabilize the teachers in the community. In fact, TFA doesn't even expect more than two years from its recruits.
When we put our children, all of our children, front and center then we will begin to do what is right for them and not for the comfort of the adults.