Sunday, August 24, 2008

Teach for America - What is the Goal?

This weekend I attended the memorial service of my cousins' grandmother who lived to be 106 years old. She could play Scabble, until her last days, usually winning by all accounts. She had such a keen mind that she strategized a design to cheat during her last game, hiding a U in the bedsheets until the desired high-pointed Q arrived on the scene. (The family found the U after her death.)

At lunch I sat across from the nice couple who sang at the service. During a brief discussion of education, they told me that their niece had joined Teach for America and did the required two years of teaching so that she could put it on her resume, which then helped her to be accepted to Med School. I was stunned and didn't really believe that they could be recounting the story correctly. But, I was utterly wrong.

How did I find out? When I arrived home from the memorial service, in a twist of irony, I stumbled upon a blog post, in my google alerts, entitled Why I Hate Teach For America. Blogger Anna, a New York City Teaching Fellow, writes a scathing, yet interesting article, comparing the NYCTF and TFA programs. From Anna's article:
"They [TFA] don’t require teachers to take the steps to become permanently certified because there is no expectation that their teachers will stay in teaching once their two-year resume-building experience is over. How do I know? Because it’s on their website!"
She's right! The TFA website even has a tab labelled, "After the Corps", where teaching is implied to be an entry level job to building another type of career.

But TFA purports to be so much more. No wonder a friend and former teacher/nun/administrator used to refer to Teach for America as "Teach for the Universe". I'm not usually so naive, but I didn't get the full extent of the joke. From the Teach for Ameica Website:

"What we do

Teach For America aims to end educational inequity—the reality that in our country where a child is born determines his or her educational outcomes and, in turn, life prospects. Our mission is to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort. Our vision is that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education."

That is a lofty mission for an organization that encourages its members to teach for two years, (without a credential), in order to leave that entry level job for a better position!

Some Background
In California, to earn a teaching credential, college graduates are required to go through a certified teacher credential program, at a teaching university, for a year, or a year-and-a-half. During that time, they are required to observe credentialed teachers in several environments including a semester of observation in at least one school. The credential candidates are also required to student teach for a semester, under the guidence of a master teacher. The candiates do all of this while paying exhorbitant amounts of tuition to the teaching institution and not getting paid a dime for the work they do.

In stark contrast, the Teach for America program gives young college graduates some summer training (5 weeks). At the end of the summer, the TAF candidates start teaching in urban schools. They take some teaching courses during their two year commitment, usually in the evening. They are required to work toward a credential, but are not required to get one. They get credit for their teaching and paid for their work at the regular salary rate of the district where they work. TFA is part of Americorp, thus the TFA teachers also receive an Americorp stipend [award].
From the TFA website:
"Teach For America is currently a member of AmeriCorps, the national service network. Through this relationship, our corps members who have not previously received AmeriCorps awards receive an education award of $4,725 at the end of each year of service (a total of $9,450 over the two years). Corps members are also eligible for loan forbearance and interest payments on student loans."
While earning my credential, I was told that the first two years of teaching would be rough. It was estimated that it took at least 7 years to get to a point of mastery. They were correct.

A last thought: The more that education is corporatized, the less valued are teachers who have spent years mastering their art, their craft. It is, after all, fiscally efficient to maintain a young staff earning entry level salaries.

1 comment:

uglyblackjohn said...

The idea sounds like a good one. But it becomes a problem with theory vs. reality.
It's the lack of building trust and relationships that becomes a problem in this situation. Much like when police officers were taken off the street and put in patrol cars. There was no relationship between officer and citizen.

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