PLEASE STOP SHOUTING.

 

The following is a reply to several blogs I’ve read.

I believe in compromise collegiality, and consensus. In today’s blog and website infested world everyone seems to want to shout as loudly as possible how right their side is. Everyone, Wendy Kopp included, needs to stop being so defensive and over sensitized. The political fray in DC is no different from what we have become as Americans: advocates for adversarial argument. Do we all want to be TV lawyers? I, for one, would rather not. Although I respect the right of free speech, I would like to advocate more for the right of free listening.

Bloggers, chill. Listen. Think calmly. Stop the stereotyping. Experienced teachers are not incompetent veterans. TFA volunteers are not greedy elitists. I have mentored 19 TFA teachers and none of them fit that stereotype. Yes, some of them have come from Berkeley, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Yale, yet some come from Florida State, Miami, Rutgers, Stony Brook, and the University of Oregon. None of them are using their 2-year stint to work for Goldman or the XYZ Hedge Fund Group. All five from my first cohort (2010) are still teaching with the intent of staying in teaching, or like many of my colleagues from the early 1970’s, move up the ranks and replace the miserable administrators we faced and they now face every day. In fact, I have a couple of traditional (women of color) GSE students who have set their goals that high as well.

Of the 11 in my second cohort (2011), two are going to med school, one is applying for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology, one will work for TFA as a representative knowing the good stuff we know, and one wants to work for Educators for Excellence. Ok, you can’t win them all. Although, he now can also be more thoughtful as he hears the rhetoric. The other five will remain where they are, or with my encouragement, move to other, better run NYC public schools where they can get mentoring and collegial help from older peers and colleagues. So, my numbers are these: Of the 16 who have gone through the two year TFA stint, 11 are still teaching, 2 are working in education…I hope as subversives, and 3 are going into other helping professions. NO greed there. They see that the big picture is for some of us to fix things within the classroom, and some to become the leaders and policy makers. Maybe if I had gone that route, I could have made a bigger difference. I chose to stay in the classroom for 38 years and contribute in many other ways besides teaching.

It is also time to stop using language like, “short term jobs for the elite”, and “It’s time to stop allowing achievement and privilege to masquerade as competence, dedication, and skill.” Watch my TFA kids’ faces as they recoil from reading and hearing that. How different is that from the nasty name calling we’ve heard directed at experienced veteran teachers like, “overpaid incompetents”? The truth is ageism seems to be a two way street. I hated being thought less of as young teacher, and I equally hate being thought less of as an older one. We all know talent and skill is distributed along the age range.

It is true that, “Selective colleges select talent, but due to admissions criteria biased towards students in wealthy school districts, they often perpetuate class privilege.” But what does this have to do with each TFA kid trying his or her best? Save it for the protest against admissions criteria.

“The idea that a person would inherently be a better teacher due to their privileged position in society smacks of elitism.” is not helpful in my work with these genuinely well meaning kids. I taught in the Bronx and in Scarsdale. Was I elitist by leaving the Bronx? Is it elitist for kids from high-income communities to choose NOT to work in finance and instead teach? Of course there are inequities in education. No one has seen those extremes more than me. If, as a result of the inequitably good education and the superior educational attainment of their mothers, they become more qualified, should we discount them?

 

If I was hiring new teachers, give me bright motivated kids who are willing to learn how teaching skills, have the appropriate talents, and the understand the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy. I don’t care if they come from Scarsdale, the Bronx, or Puerto Rico. Nor would I care if traditional Ed programs, City Fellows, TFA, or the man in the moon recruited them. Good is good.

Many TFA’ers are in fact, competent, dedicated, and with more training and experience will become better skilled.  We have to stop denying that. In that regard I have to thank TFA for bringing them into education. Would they, as you ask, have come in if TFA didn’t exist? To what extent would those 8000 vacancies be filled? Surely not all 8000 were replacements for fired teachers who were just about to gain tenure. Thousands of baby boomer teachers are retiring, as I did 4 years ago. By the way, does anyone remember how many of my male colleagues became teachers in the late 1960s because of a little thing called the VIETNAM WAR?

 

We have to separate the organization from its recruits. It is the organization that needs to listen to reason and change, and to stop believing its own hype. Your statements “Wendy Kopp and other TFA leaders counter that attrition and cost are not issues since the ultimate purpose of TFA is not to produce career teachers but to produce education professionals and philanthropists to fight educational inequity.” and “Kopp says in her memoir, for example, that she is “baffled” that teachers are required to have professional training as doctors and lawyers are; teacher quality is a matter of talent and leadership.” are what is truly baffling. TFA is wrong when it says talent counts and training doesn’t. Excellent teachers are both talented and highly skilled. So are excellent professionals in any trade.

 

And now to respond to a variety of points, pardon the bullets and, please forgive me…the short answer segment of this lengthy reply. I will try not to repeat other comments.

  • “As TFA is expanding, it is no longer just filling positions in shortage areas; rather, it’s replacing experienced and traditionally educated teachers. To justify this encroachment, TFA claims that their teachers are more effective than more experienced and qualified teachers, and that training and experience are not factors in effective teaching. TFA supporters also defend the explosive growth of TFA as an indication that TFA is elevating the status of the teaching profession for ambitious high-achieving college students.  Unfortunately, while Teach for America has been very effective at elevating the status of Teach for America, it has not had a similar impact on the status of teaching as a profession.”
    • Claims like these lead to FUNDING!

“Most [TFA] … were dedicated, smart, and hard working, but most seemed overwhelmed.”

  • Yes, so lets stop making it harder for them by calling them names.

“Most [TFA] … were dedicated, smart, and hard working, but most seemed overwhelmed.”

  • Yes, so lets stop making it harder for them by calling them names.

“The struggling economy and tight job market has probably boosted TFA’s popularity among graduates of selective colleges. Also, finance and business fields suffer from a tarnished reputation, and more idealistic undergrads are likely sensitive to this.”

  • TRUE. Circumstances like these and the Vietnam War turn college grads to teaching.

“Even so, TFA preserves the status of selectivity of industry and law jobs, but with the patina of altruism. The program provides training in leadership skills, a notch on the resume, a social and professional network, and middle-income employment, almost all on the taxpayers’ dime and at the expense of the education of the most powerless of our society.”

  • TRUE. NICE PHRASES. For some this is the closest thing to the Peace Corp they can get. Some mothers just wont let their little 22 year olds go to work in Africa.

“Wendy Kopp and other TFA leaders counter that attrition and cost are not issues since the ultimate purpose of TFA is not to produce career teachers but to produce education professionals and philanthropists to fight educational inequity.”

  • THERE YOU HAVE IT. FLUFF, NOT SUBSTANCE. What does that mean anyway?

“Furthermore, TFA has partnerships with hundreds of graduate schools that offer TFA alumni benefits such as two-year deferrals, fellowship, course credits, and waived application fees.”

  • THIS IS A GOOD THING. IT GIVES THEM PEOPLE LIKE ME TO GET SOME REAL TRAINING, AND DE-HYPING.

Many TFA alumni leave the classroom and enter into an echo chamber where the ideologies and industries of TFA, TFA alums, and like-minded individuals and organizations are promoted. This causes many of them to view education policy through a narrow lens and fail to recognize what causes the inequities in the first place: unequal distribution of resources, income inequality, and poverty.”

  • TOO TRUE, AND A RELUCTANCE TO SEE THAT THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO TEACH WELL. I hope the two I trained can infiltrate from within.

As “B” said, “TFA gets a heck of a lot more support than NYCTF members.”

  • TRUE! They go to TFA headquarters to get support, a lot of resources, materials and plans…some good, MOST crap. They often feed at the mother’s teat, especially when they have little, if any, support from within their schools.

Well, there you have it. Thanks for LISTENING. And please stop shouting.

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