Just a little about Teach for America (TFA)…

As a public school teacher, I’ve always been a little weary of what Teach for America does. Don’t get me wrong, on the surface, it’s a noble experiment — take their own words, for instance: “We recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.” Heck, who wouldn’t want that?

But it’s not quite that simple and I learned more about this first hand from a former student of mine who will start with TFA this summer. Zane (*not his real name – I just always liked Zane Smith when he pitched for the Pirates and for some reason always wanted to use his name in a situation like this one…) is a former student of mine who excelled at just about everything. I know that people say this too much, but I honestly have never once heard anybody say a bad word about him. He’s somebody we’re all very proud of and know he will do great things.

Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive when he told me last summer that he was working to get hired by TFA. Does he really know what that entails? Has college muddled his mind? What in the world is he thinking??? 

But I also knew that if anybody could do this, it’s Zane. I’m certain that he’d be great in front of a classroom – in fact, I figured that he’ll be great to have in front of a group of young children who need a strong teacher, who I’m sure has aced all of his Ed courses, and whom I know will be a strong role model as well. But then I had the chance to talk to him recently and found out some more about how TFA works.

The first thing that really threw me for a loop is that Zane is not an Ed Major — okay, I get it — not everybody has to be an Ed Major to be a strong teacher. I figured he’d at least had some courses in the field of Education in order to become a teacher. NOPE. Not one. Nada. Zilch. You can go back and read that again. This young man, whom we are entrusting with educating some of our neediest students, has not had one single course in the field of Education. He will receive five weeks of “intensive” training that prepares him for his teaching experience. You see, we value teachers so much that we believe it’s possible to churn ’em out in all of five weeks. And we wonder why it is that the % of teachers leaving within their first five years hovers around the 50% mark.

Hmmm, okay. So I get it — we need Physics and Biology and Calculus teachers so badly that perhaps this is why — he’s got the undergraduate degree in a highly technical field and he’s being poached by TFA for the first two years, forgiving his student loans (many of them, I should say, not all) and then hoping that he’s had such a rewarding experience that he sticks with it. Umm, yeah, about that.

You see, Zane is not a Physics, Biology or Calculus major. Zane is going to graduate soon with a degree in Psychology (*full disclosure – I’ve changed that — just in the interest of trying to protect his identity again, just in case).  But I can assure you that his degree is in almost a polar opposite field from what he’ll be teaching: Math. Seriously.

So we live in a world where teachers are being crushed for leaving the industry in the first five years of teaching and we wonder why that is. We put young professionals with a Bachelor of Whatever in front of a group of students who are just begging to be led, and we then wonder why they don’t stick with it. Yep, makes perfect sense.

I’d like to make sure that one thing is absolutely, positively crystal clear — not one word of this is intended to show anything less than complete faith in Zane — I just seriously doubt this model.

And you wonder why we’ve got a chip on our shoulder? Seriously?

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