iTeach

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 16 2011

In support of TFA Ohio

Teach for America is coming to Ohio next year! I know, right! How could you not be excited about that?! Well some people on this blog really got on my nerves, as usual. I should be used to the negative/Anti-TFA comments by now, and people are allowed to voice their opinion about TFA, but I just hate when people speak about something that they know nothing about!

Here’s the article:
Teach for America aiming to be in Ohio in the fall
http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/12/teach_for_america_coming_to_oh.html

Here’s my response:

I would like to begin with a quote from GleninMars who previously commented on the TFA Ohio post in June, “TFA is a piece of the puzzle and never claim to be the answer. They just see a gap in achievement and refuse to sit by idly because they know it can be closed. I will forever be working for the improvement of the quality of education in our lowest performing schools. Something I could not say two years ago.”

I am forever grateful for my TFA experience. I am grateful that Wendy Kopp saw a need for a corps of teachers in 1988. I am grateful that she took that idea from a senior thesis at Princeton University to an actual organization that she brought to fruition, that I am now a part of.

To those of you who scoff at the 5-week institute that corps members endure before entering the classroom, and ROFLOL at the fact that TFA can help (but not solve) the brain drain in Ohio, when is the last time you visited a school? Have you offered your time to tutor any students in the last 2-5 years? How disconnected are you from your community? If you have not taught or tutored recently, you probably have a skewed perspective of what education looks like. A lot has changed since you were in school!! A whole lot has changed since I was in middle school only 10 years ago. I currently teach middle school in Houston, Texas. The achievement gap is real. It will not be solved over night, it might not be solved solely by Teach for America, but I strongly believe TFA is a step in the right direction.

But if you haven’t been in a school then you have no idea what teachers are subjected to on the daily basis. Every year students enter Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms unprepared. Students, especially minority and low SES students are entering kindergarten already behind their majority or High SES counter-parts. The sad reality we live in today is that your zip code determines your success. Will a five-week training adequately prepare you? No, but ask any teacher, nothing can truly prepare you for teaching. I don’t have children of my own, but I imagine it’s like parenting. Read all the books you want, talk to experts and doctors, but when it’s just you and a kid instinct must kick in. Obviously masters programs and traditional training programs would be preferred, but if you haven’t looked into what the TFA process involves then you probably should refrain from commenting on how it doesn’t work because frankly you don’t know.
I understand that a longer training would be beneficial, however I felt like Teach for America did a wonderful job in preparing its corps members. We attended sessions M-F from 7am-4pm for five weeks. There were various sessions on classroom management, discipline, curriculum, etc. During this time period we were also teaching one period a day. My summer teaching placement (See previous post: Welcome to the Achievement Gap) was an eye opening experience to the achievement gap that I’d had little personal experience with in high school.

I am a Cleveland Heights High School and The Ohio State University graduate. I love the state of Ohio and I love education. I majored in Human Development and Family Science while at OSU, and applied to both TFA and OSU Master’s program. I wanted to teach, but I really wanted to be a part of a national organization which was dedicated to the education of ALL students. Being a Teach for America corps member has opened my eyes to the achievement gap that I already knew existed while attending Heights. I was in AP classes, so I was the majority in the hallways but a minority in class. Luckily, I made it through high school and through college. However, every student doesn’t get the same experiences and mentors/coaches that I had. Every child is not given an equal opportunity. TFA wants to help change that.

Do all corps members become lifelong teachers? No, but that is a testament to the teaching profession as a whole rather than just TFA. It is a commonly known that 50% of the new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching. In addition, young people studying to be teachers rarely know if they will succeed as a teacher. There has been no effective way of predicting whether or not one individual will be successful in teaching and will remain a teacher for an entire lifetime. (Haberman Foundation)

TFA’s belief is that even if you leave the classroom, you are forever changed by your experience and become an advocate for education for the rest of your life. You can leave TFA after your 2-year commitment to enter law school and go into educational policy. You can leave the classroom and become an administrator. TFA’s goal is STRUCTURAL CHANGE.

Also, I’d like to point out, “Teach for America reports that nearly half of their alumni teach at their placement schools for a third year. Many others go on to teach elsewhere, especially at KIPP charter schools and other schools founded by Teach For America alumni. Still others train for administrative positions, and Teach For America now reports that 67% of its alumni are working or studying in education.”

Don’t believe me? Google is your friend. Take time out of your busy schedule to look up any of these notable TFA Alumni:
Dave Levin (Houston ’92), KIPP Co-founder
Mike Feinberg (Houston ’92), KIPP Co-founder
Chris Barbic (Houston ’92), Founder of YES Prep Public Schools and Superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.
Michelle Rhee (Baltimore ’92), Former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system and founder of The New Teacher Project; Founder, StudentsFirst

In short, TFA is not magic. I am not an amazing teacher simply because I’m a TFA corps member. (I apologize on behalf of anyone in my national corps that has given off that sort of bravado.) I have only been teaching a year and a half, and I have a LOT to learn. Yet, in this short amount of time I have learned A LOT. I believe OSU has a wonderful Master’s program that probably produces great teachers, but I’ve learned a lot from being IN the trenches. Experience is priceless. And while TFA is not magic, I believe it is a magical program to be a part of because it challenges me to challenge my students to reach beyond the stars.

Excited this program is coming to my beloved O-H-I-O,
Angel Williams
TFA Houston 2010

7 Responses

  1. Sam

    You argue that the fact that so many TFA members go on to become administrators (after approximately 2 years in the classroom) is a benefit that we critics overlook. In actuality, many of us who have major problems with TFA see this as one of the major problems. People with very limited experience in education, who have come out of a program that has only exposed them to a very specific ideology, go on to direct schools and – even worse – influence policies and policy-makers.

    It is fantastic for people to become advocates for education, but if you are going to advocate, you should be well-informed and experienced.

    • angelrl

      Sam,

      The TFA commitment is 2 years, after that you are considered an alumni. Thus, TFA Alumni could teach 1 year or 10 years beyond their initial 2 year commitment. I think you have a good point. However, most leadership positions require a certain amount of experience as a prerequisite.

      I think you need classroom experience for most upper admin jobs, but then again some of the people in power now have been in education for EONS and they still make horrible decisions. Who’s to blame there? Sometimes I think admin needs more business or managerial experience over classroom experience because they understand classrooms, but they’re horrible at running schools and managing personnel.

      At any rate, persons in the classroom and in a position of power should always have the best interest of students at heart. Sadly, that’s what seems to be missing.

      • Sam

        I completely agree with you that there are people who have been in the field for years making bad decisions. You need experience, but experience alone doesn’t mean you’re good!

        Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the people who are put into the highest positions often don’t even have experience. Some taught for a few years and some never taught. The Michelle Rhees and Cathie Blacks shouldn’t be running out schools, nor should the experienced educators who can’t manage effectively.

  2. Kurt (Community Manager)

    Congratulations! You post has been featured on the Teach For Us homepage.

  3. Emma

    TFA is not one entity. It has different components that work together… It is (1) a corporately-run and funded non-profit organization, (2) a teacher recruitment and training program, and (3) an idea/mission or theory of change (bring in top grads to help struggling schools), and related to number 3 is (4) an alumni force/network which more power and connections through association with TFA. Then there are the actual corps members who are part of the organization but also not as staff – they are more like customers (which TFA staff want to support and keep happy and effective teachers) as well as workers carrying out the mission.

    So, some criticism comes at the organization because of its sly PR and corporate ways and philosophy. Others usually take issue with the TFA theory of change/mission or the limited prep of its program. But, of course, most people believe in the underlying goal: to help struggling schools and students. You’ll have to think about which parts of TFA you defend or believe in but acknowledge that there are possible flaws in each that warrant discussion. But saying TFA is all good or all bad isn’t saying much these days.

    And listing the alumni that have attained powerful positions or started schools warrants another discussion because we must look at what they are advocating, why, and from what assumptions. Their reforms must be looked at in wider contexts and what it means for others – not just the students or certain interests in which they serve.

  4. Jordan

    I’ve been reading through your blog today, seeing what institute will be like and the first year of teaching, and am happy and excited to say that I will be part of the NorthEast Ohio Corps! I’ve been reading everything I can about Cleveland, and am excited to get to be a part of its first year with TFA. Thanks for your blog!

  5. angelrl

    Jordan that’s great to hear! Where are you originally from? Please feel free to reach out if you ever need anything.

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