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My love/hate for TFA October 16, 2008

Filed under: Education — Ms.M @ 2:23 pm

Teach for America came up in last night’s debate. I can’t help but be very divided about these programs in which college graduates are thrown into a classroom as teachers. The problem is that I myself considered becoming a Teach for America teacher. I was frustrated with public schooling. I was frustrated with ever growing gap between urban/minority schools and their ultra-suburban counterparts. I wanted to make any difference I possibly could. Ultimately, I decided against it, and went into another community service program, and have no regrets, but there is still a lingering love for any program that tries to ameliorate what should be an equal and fair chance at success.

I love that the energy, passion, desire, and creativity of young college students and what they can bring to schools that are failing their students, communities, and even their teachers.Many of these students are outside the box thinkers, who truly want to change the system.

I love the vision that these students have of being inspirational role models for their students.

I love that for two years these young people are truly committed to making a difference in their society rather than making their way towards a fat paycheck (Although TFA assumes that these students will not stay teachers after 2 years).

At the same time my hate for TFA also runs deep, especially when a republican candidate spits out increasing funding for TFA as a way to “improve” public schooling. I know that part of this hate stems from becoming a certified teacher myself, and the two years I put into educating myself on adolescent development/psychology, and young adult literature and the reading and writing process, and what’s worked/not worked in the classroom, and the history of our educational system. Yet here is this group of undergrads, who after about a month or so of training, are doing the same job that I hope to do.

I hate that the implied message that teaching is something that anyone can enter for a short period of time, that it isn’t a lifelong commitment or a profession. That it isn’t a creative, artistic, endeavor that requires both the heart and the mind. That it doesn’t really require much in the way of background knowledge or critical thought to undertake the immense challenge that is teaching. Just grab a book, throw out some questions, and viola, students are learning!

I hate the hypocrisy that is the TFA program. On the one hand they claim to only take the best and the brightest-And admittedly, it is very difficult to get accepted into the program-implying that these teachers can do as fine of a job, if not a better job than those currently working in the public school system. Here’s the kicker though; if they are so immensly qualified, so up to par with every other teacher, why throw them all into the poorest schools. Why not throw them into the suburban schools as well. Why add more unqualified teachers into schools that are chock full of unqualified or underqualified teachers?

I hate that TFA teachers will be less likely to fight against “teacher-proof” curriculum, because they don’t know what else is out there. That they’ll be more likely to teach towards the standardized tests, because they’ve had less of a chance to reflect on the bigger picture of education.

Do I think programs like TFA should be completely eliminated; NO. I know there are some schools that desparately need teachers, and that can only afford to pay the bare minimum that TFA teachers receive. But I do hope that it never gets to the point where throwing bodies into a building is considered making an improvement in education. I hope it never gets to the point where it becomes even more ok to give some students an education, and other students the best education possible. I hope at some point the majority will realize that the system is broken, more so than the many able and willing teachers who truly care about their students.

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