What is the agenda of Teach For America?

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by Tyler B., May 5, 2012.

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  1. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I know TFA takes high-achiving college graduates and places them as full teachers in high needs classrooms. This is after 5 weeks of training. I wonder if these highly committed and idealistic young people are actually causing harm to teaching?

    Shouldn't our profession be one that requires hundreds of hours of training to gain the skills to be effective? Can you think of any other honorable profession that would tolerate a five-week training period?




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  3. Peregrin5

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    All I know is that I certainly wouldn't feel prepared after 5 weeks of training. About harm: TFA provides highly skilled, highly knowledgeable candidates who are dedicated to making a difference with children and connecting to them. They are certainly in for a rough time, but I could imagine worse candidates.

    (people who enter the profession for a paycheck and don't give a flying hoot about children)

    I think the application process is fairly successful in rooting those out who are just using teaching as a stepping stone to something else.

    They have knowledge about their subjects, and they care about their students. They may not have amazing teaching skills and classroom management, but neither do first year teachers. That doesn't mean we should stop hiring all new teachers because they might not fully prepare the first class of students that might get stuck with them.
     
  4. mrachelle87

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    I have a friend whose daughter is doing it in the fall. She applied when she realized that finding a job in her career path would be almost impossible. I am not sure that I agree with the program or her reasons for doing it. She is trying to justify it be stating she will only be working in schools "where certified people would never apply." I told her I think there are certified teachers willing to move anywhere, but not as cheap as her working for TFA. Just my two cents...by the way, the whole process makes me feel insulted.
     
  5. KinderCowgirl

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    Their requirements are extremely stringent and every candidate we've ever had working for us has been 100% committed. They come early, stay late, volunteer for committees. They do fill slots in areas where many teachers quit or positions are never filled. My sister applied years ago and her top 3 choices of location were Baltimore, Detroit and the Mississippi Delta. The company has former master teachers who are assigned as support for the TFA candidates-they check in with them weekly--that's a lot more support than a typical beginning teacher gets.

    I may be biased, however, because I went through an ACP program myself and had very limited training the summer before, but I think I turned out ok. ;)
     
  6. EdEd

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    Tyler, I think you're right, with a few exceptions. I actually started a TFA thread about a year ago - literally the exact same discussion, so I'd search for that and see everyone's comments.

    Briefly, though, here are my main thoughts:

    1. Now that we are passed most teacher shortages, the original TFA mission doesn't really make sense, which was to help fill shortages in underserved areas. In most areas now, the exact opposite problem is present - teachers who have spent years of prep are having a trouble finding jobs.

    2. TFA's 5 week prep program is really good, and they have tons of in-service training above and beyond what the school does, and it's really good - I've attended one and thought it was great.

    3. TFA does have higher criteria, and the people selected are generally very smart, well-rounded, motivated, and passionate. While there are a good number of teachers who also meet these criteria, there are a good number who do not sadly. I've spent time with entire cohorts of TFA folks, and found them to be pretty good people.

    4. There is absolutely no way in the world they are prepared for the jobs they walk into. Even if they end up learning things like "how to teach reading," they've likely blown most of the year doing it, and a classroom full of kids has missed out on evidence-based instruction and is now likely further behind.

    5. On a moral level, we aren't putting these un-trained teachers in good schools where kids statistically need less instructional to "make it" in society. We are putting them with the most at-risk kids - the ones who really, really need someone to have just the right strategies before they slip even further behind. This is morally and ethically wrong in my opinion.

    6. I feel like TFA is designed to make rich kids feel good, in a way. I know that sounds bad, and I do think that TFA people almost uniformly absolutely love their kids and work as hard as possible, but now that we don't need those teachers in those schools anymore, and there are plenty of qualified teachers to take those spots, there is no need for un-qualified 22-year-olds to be working as classroom teachers. Rather, it feeds the "save the world" and "great white hope" complexes of many college grads who believe they are specially privileged over everyone else - that education is failing, and if they were to simply be allowed to teach, problems would be solved.

    7. Education isn't the same as it was when TFA started - many people did (and still do) believe that education is only about inspiration, dedication, and love - that if they bring their passion and commitment to the classroom, that will be enough. Over the last 10 years, we've seen a tremendous rise in the expectation that teachers use technically sound, evidence-based practices in the classroom, especially at the elementary level, and especially in reading and math. It's simply wrong to think that anyone could teach anyone else how to teach reading (let alone everything else that needs to be taught) in 5 weeks.

    8. TFA provides the best training and support system for new teachers that I've ever seen, by a factor that's not even comparable. I've advocated to a few TFA folks that TFA should move in the direction of not finding it's own teachers, but contracting with districts to provide training and support to new teachers entering their district. Why not take college grads who DO have teaching certificates, and THEN run them through the 5 week training, and give them the same in-service programs and support programs that they give their TFA grads? In others, the market has changed, and most districts no longer need the extra bodies in the classroom, but they could very much use the training and support services TFA could bring. Scale that up, and use funding to support ALL new teachers in a particular district.

    I know some of this sounds harsh, but I tend to be a pretty big advocate for kids, and doing what's best for them. I have a close family member who did TFA and loved it, so I'm personally connected to the program, but if it's not in the best interest of the kids, I'm not for it!
     
  7. Momzoid

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    I work with 4 TFA teachers, one directly. They do not collaborate, they plan activities for their classrooms without including other grade level teachers. It is difficult to talk to them about anything. They stay in a group like a clique- they even live together. Their observations are stage- in other words the difficult students are removed before the observation is made. Special treatment is given to them as in special volunteers in the classrooms and doing activities that we have never been allowed to do such as Halloween parties. I work in a Title I school. We are on alert for test scores. We have major discipline problems. They are not trained to deal with this. There is no shortage of teachers in my area, yet the system plans on hiring 20 more and put them in Title 1 schools. I am insulted. I am discouraged. And I am not alone.
     
  8. Emily Bronte

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    I have never worked with someone who was part of TFA. I would think that in this economic climate that certified teachers are that hard to come by, seriously. I mean no disrespect to anyone who has gone through this program. But, I was under the impression that most participants did not stay in education.
     
  9. Reality Check

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    I did the "Teach for America" thing early in my career. There were quite a few of my colleagues at the two schools I taught at during my two years that were engineering majors, etc. They were just looking for a way to bridge the financial gap until they could land a spot in their own field.

    Maybe it's changed over the years, but in spite of the public propaganda that they've put out, the schools in need were just looking for a warm body to fill their staff.

    Some of the schools were such a bad experience, that even the legitimate education graduates vowed never to enter a classroom again.

    If nothing else, it prepared me for teaching in the city, dealing with lousy administrators, apathetic students, and gave me two experiences living in two different areas of the country.


    :unsure:
     
  10. EdEd

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    Interesting, a good number (not sure about percentage) go on to do some pretty cool things in education. If you've heard of the KIPP schools, that's a TFA thing - they are started by TFA grads, and typically staffed by TFA grads as well. KIPP schools (charters) show some pretty good results.

    I actually think that a benefit of TFA is that is socializes some college grads who will go into medicine or law or something else to understand more the importance of education, and potentially to stay involved in different ways, such as going to grad school for psychology, or trying to serve on a school Board.

    Again, I think it IS beneficial for those that participate, and therefore indirectly beneficial to students in some way over the long run, but it's the two years they spend in the classroom that is the problem, generally speaking.
     
  11. KinderCowgirl

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    But isn't it like 60% of people who start in education in general don't stay in education before they even put in 5 years?
     
  12. FourSquare

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    I work with a TFA teacher and she is hands-down one of the greatest first year teachers I've ever seen. Her management is awesome, she is very data-driven, and she has a great relationship with her kids and their families. I'm sure that's not true for all TFA recruits, but I was definitely impressed. I want in on whatever training she got in those 5 weeks!
     
  13. Emily Bronte

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    Yes, I am familiar with KIPP. I did not mean to imply that TFA was an awful program by any means. I think that you have excellent points on how the program socializes those who eventually go into other "helping" professions.
     
  14. Tyler B.

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    It's possible that TFA has helped people develop their people skills, and some TFA alumni have gone on to top leadership positions. For example, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the public schools of the District of Columbia, who now works closely with the nation's most conservative governors to strip teachers of due process rights and to promote charter schools, vouchers, and for-profit education corporations. Thanks, TFA.

    Shouldn't our goal be to help the students develop and not some pre-med-already-privilaged person hone their skills for some future job outside of education?



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  15. Peregrin5

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    Yes.

    But I would like to point out that your question is very biased.
     
  16. waterfall

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    The governor in my home state is literally using TFA as a "threat" for the teachers there- saying that if they can't do it (bring performance up) he'll bring in TFA to "show them how it's done." It's sickening. There is absolutely NO shortage of teachers anywhere in that entire state. I looked in every district across the entire state when I was first looking (I'm not exaggerating, every single one) and couldn't find a job even with a sped cert. The only people I know from my college program that found jobs were those that were willing to move out of state. Those that weren't willing to move are still looking, on year 3 now. The market is beyond saturated even in the really "rough inner city" as well as the really rural areas.
     
  17. dcnuck

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    The TFA teacher that I know of has done her two years and has decided teaching is not for her and quitting at the end of this year.
     
  18. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    There are so many dedicated, well trained, certified teachers desperate for jobs.

    I don't understand why an administrator would choose to hire an untrained, uncertified teacher instead.
     
  19. waterfall

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    It's usually another case of people not working in schools making decisions about education. We do have TFA in my current state and for the districts that have it, it was a school board and/or government decision. The individual administrators in buildings are told that they must fill a certain number of positions each year with TFA people- they are not allowed to hire a certified candidate instead even if they want to. Our master teacher's sister is a principal in the city I'm moving to, and when she knew I was first looking she told her sister all about me. Her sister said she'd love to meet me, but didn't know if she'd have any non-TFA positions open. The district she works in could be considered somewhat "inner city", but they have TONS of available candidates. I went to a job fair and there literally at least 200-300 candidates waiting in line to speak to them. The line literally wrapped around the entire building. In the case of my home state, the governor is threatening to mandate TFA grads in certain districts regardless of what they think about it. Some of the districts mentioned are "rough," but again, no shortage of teachers. One in particular laid off hundreds of teachers last year.
     
  20. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    Teach for America isn't needed anymore, now that there are so many qualified candidates out there. I can see a slight need in physics, chemistry, and math in low socioeconomic areas or less desirable districts. But hiring a TFA teacher for elementary education isn't acceptable. Teaching isn't something that you can learn in a few weeks.
     
  21. punchinello

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    I agree, orangetea.

    My oldest daughter spent her college years preparing for a career in education. She double majored in psychology/sociology, an education minor, with a semester student teaching. Certified for K-6, she sent out dozens of resumes, subbed for a year and now has a tenure-track position. (yay!)

    My other daughter is a bioengineering major at Penn. Brilliant kid. But she will be totally unprepared at graduation to take on a classroom full of students. She doesn't have the innate talent to be a teacher. 5 weeks of training does not a teacher make.

    It is insulting to daughter #1 to say that #2 can be a classroom teacher just because...she is really smart?
     
  22. Tyler B.

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    With the teaching profession under attack by the right, this is a time when teachers should be held to a higher standard. TFA seems to say that teacher training is not all that important. It's inexcusable that TFA people are hired before credentialed teachers who've undergone 100s of hours of student teaching and methods classes.




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  23. JustMe

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    I have never heard of this specifically...not sure how I haven't.

    My first thought was "The Skin I'm In"...the teacher in that (great!) book was a businesswoman teaching to "give back", so I assume that was inspired by TFA.

    From what've read about TFA, I have no clue why it exists still. Sounds like the Fast Lane express pass at Cedar Point...

    :confused:
     
  24. Speechy

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    I had quite a few friends and fellow schoolmates accepted into Teach For America. I attended an ivy, so I'm assuming that's why a good many of them were accepted into the program.

    A lot of them did it to try out teaching and to have an experience to put on their resume. TFA is actually not an easy program to get into, and is considered slightly prestigious. None of them are currently teaching now, but did fulfill the requirements of the program.

    The point of TFA is to send college graduates to teach in under-resourced areas and to "fill in the gaps". During recent years, since the job market has taken a turn for the worse, the goal of the program now seems rather silly and insulting. When really, the goal of the program was always to bring educated newcomers and professionals into a lacking area and make the situation better, along with introducing a potential candidate to the world of education.

    TFA has good intentions. I don't think the point was ever to grab the teaching jobs away from other education majors. No one could have predicted how saturated the teaching field would become, even in the under-developed areas.
     
  25. EdEd

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    I think that's a great point - that it's insulting to those of us who respect the complexity of the task, and who have spent years preparing for it, to be told by someone with 5 weeks of training, "I can do that too."
     
  26. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    As I see it, there is still a need for people to come into under-resourced areas and be gap-fillers. As saturated as the job market is these days, there are still many places that can't get or keep qualified teachers. For example, my school has never once had a full slate of math teachers. We have always, every single year since the school was opened, had at least one year-long long term sub in a math classroom. Most years there are 2 or 3 or 4 or 5....Licensed teachers are simply not applying for jobs at schools like mine, either because they erroneously believe that there are no jobs or because they don't want to work in a school like mine. In either case, we still have students who need to learn, so we need teachers to teach them. At least with TFA folks, they are getting a few weeks of training, which is more than the average long term sub. Just something to think about, I suppose.
     
  27. EdEd

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    I think that's a great point - that they did not originally have those intentions. But, any organization - once created - feels the need to continue. It's sort of odd - the goal of most social service programs should be to work itself out of business (because the social problem has been solved), but of course few ever do because most social problems aren't ever solved, even if they are improved. Interestingly, TFA's "social problem" at the core of its mission has been solved - at least temporarily - but, rather than reorganizing around a new need (e.g., provide training and support to already-certified teachers), they've chosen to obstinately persist in "solving a problem" that no longer exists. They've also chosen to attempt to solve a problem that their intervention doesn't match with - such as facilitating low-performing schools transitioning into higher performing schools. I would ask what intervention they bring - what are the "active ingredients" that they bring to solve core education problems? And better, if they have uncovered a "secret formula" in their 5 week pre-service and follow-up in-service trainings, why aren't they sharing that with the rest of the education community? Why would they feel that such a formula should only be used with un-trained college grads, as opposed to college grads with 2-4 years of preparation to teach?

    On the other hand, I think there are serious and clear problems with many teacher training programs, from admission criteria to curricula, and I can see how a group of smart people would say, "This isn't working, and we care about kids, so let's try to do better." I can see that, and I don't blame them. I have worked with many incompetent teachers, and people that I've known in the TFA program have also shared stories of teacher colleagues that are simply horrendous. It's hard to argue against a motivated, smart, open-minded, and continuous improving college grad, when compared with a lazy, relatively not smart, extremely not current teacher who isn't motivated. My point is that there are "bad apples" within the teaching profession, and until it cleans itself up a bit, it's hard for that profession to argue against other people trying to do better. This, of course, is really awful for people who are brilliant, creative teachers being held responsible for the behavior of those who aren't. But, it is what it is I guess.
     
  28. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    But they're still NOT being filled by qualified teachers.

    It seems to me that this is about advertising and recruiting.

    The teachers ARE out there. It's up to the schools to find them so that the schools are taught by qualified professionals. The internet makes that incredibly easy.

    That same ambition to help, the willingness to work with kids like yours-- I fail to see how it exists in TFA candidates and not in other college grads who happen to hold certification. Whatever TFA is doing in terms of marketing, THAT'S what those schools need to be doing.
     
  29. orangetea

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    I think a TFA grad is much better than a long term sub with no content knowledge. If a school has tried to find a qualified math teacher and failed to do so, then a TFA member can teach. But hiring a TFA member in an over-saturated field like English is just ridiculous. And the fact that some schools must hire a certain number of TFA members before looking at qualified teachers is sickening.
     
  30. lovebeingteach

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    We had several of these individuals in my last school. Are they prepared? Some yes, some no. I think it is a slap in the face to those of us who went to college for teaching. I graduated with 152 credits in order to have a degree in elementary and special ed. Then these people come in with a degree in something else, and just wedge their way in. A lot of them leave after the 2 years and do the very thing that their degree was in. It's more of a "resume builder" than anything else for some of them.
     
  31. CanukTeach

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    My Point of View is from the "outside" as I am not American. I have read posts about this for year and not commented because I'm not American but I decided this time to share my POV.

    By and large I agree with Alice. There is not a teacher shortage and this really never was about this "problem" but about employers not getting the word out to qualified applicants that jobs are available.

    When I first heard about this program I was floored. In Canada, if one wants to do something like this (working in an area of need) first of all it is volunteer work and it is overseas. Second, recent grads very rarely get these volunteer jobs. For example, VSO hires people to volunteer for 2 years in education. However, they want people with job experience. They don't send new grads. They send people with years of experience to teach. Similarly, in my school as the Spec Ed person I am always stressing that our weakest students need the most experienced teachers so the idea of sending undertrained people (no matter how brilliant or what school they went to for their first degree) to schools of high need disgusts me.

    If this type of program tried to start in a province in Canada I am pretty sure the entire province would walk out. Seriously. But it helps that our laws are pretty clear on this type of issue - you have to be qualified to teach unless there are NO qualiifed applicants. You also have to be a member of the union if you teach in Canada because the Supreme Court rules that if you 'benefit' from the union (i.e. wage increases the union has fought for) you have to belong to the union.

    When I first heard about this program I actually questioned the motives. I think this program has the intendeded or unintended goal of undermining American teachers' ability to receive a fair wage and working conditions. Even if the motives of the people starting it were 'good' there is no doubt in my mind that it is way too easy to manipulate a program like this to make sure teachers are underpaid so to me no matter what 'good' the program does it remains a negative if it means US teachers continue to be massively underpaid when compared to their international counterparts.

    In the province I teach in there are maybe 40 districts. Unless I move there is only one district I can teach in. Even when jobs were not so hard to come by there is NO WAY that you could miss a job application because you didn't know about it as long as you were 'on top of things'. In the US, there are so many different districts that it is a full time job to keep track of who needs to hire. So it sounds to me like this 'excuse' that was used when TFA started that there were not enough applicants is just that - an excuse. If US districts wanted to hire qualified applicants (and pay them accordingly) they could have done so simply by doing a better job of communicating with grads. Now this excuse has been turned into 'rules' - where districts have to hire unqualified people over qualified people just to save money. In my view, this was pretty much a guaranteed outcome. As soon as this program started, it was just a matter of time before Districts would hire TFA candidates over qualified applicants because they are cheaper.

    In today's market - with so many people wanting jobs - the only way one is not getting enough applicants is if one is not getting the word out OR if one is paying them so little that they cannot afford to live in the area they are supposed to work in.

    Does this mean no one with TFA does any good? Of course not. But the model undermines everyone who works in education. It makes it easier to under pay teachers and it pretty much guarantees that American teachers will continue to be treated poorly.
     
  32. bandnerdtx

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    I'm just not sure that's the case in the super high need areas. Some of these districts and schools have such a bad reputation that no amount of positive press and advertising in the world is going to help them fill those spots.

    I have mixed feelings about it all. Two of the three districts I've worked in hired from TFA. Those teachers were put in the very worst schools in the area. Some did extremely well, others barely made it trough their contracts. I know that we don't have a national teacher shortage anymore, but there are teachers out there (teachers who post on this FORUM) who simply won't apply to certain schools/districts.
     
  33. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I'm on the fence about TFA. We have had TFA teachers at my school, and it's been a mixed bag. Some have been amazing, and others have been pretty bad. I certainly don't believe that a TFA teacher is qualified to teach in the same way that a licensed teacher is qualified. There might, however, be heart, natural talent, and a willingness to learn, which goes a long way.

    I know that my school and district have tried and continue to try to fill open positions, but they just aren't successful. Every year we have at least 3 teachers quit within the first 3 weeks; several more quit by the end of the first semester. Our school can't even get substitute teachers. In a city where 15% of people looking for work are unemployed and where many of those people apply to be district subs, we can't get substitutes to come to our school. Those who do come tend not to return.

    The problem for us is that our school has a bad reputation. A very bad reputation. Our reputation used to be that there was a lot of violence, drug, and gang activity at the school. At the same time, there was a strong school police presence and admin came down hard on offenders. Now, our reputation is that there is a lot of violence, drug, and gang activity....Except that now no one says boo to the offenders, no one suspends them, no one gives them detention, no one does anything. It's an absolute and literal mess. It breaks my heart to see how far our school has fallen in the past few years (and the bar was pretty low to begin with). It honestly makes me want to cry. :(
     
  34. Tyler B.

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    May 8, 2012

    Can't authentically credentialed teachers also have "heart, natural talent and a willingness to learn"?

    I'm not on the fence about TFA. I respect the eager young people going into the program, but I think our country needs highly trained teachers. TFA is causing harm to our profession by saying a 5-week wonder can do what a thoroughly trained, credentialed teacher can do.




    Favorite Teacher Blogs:
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  35. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    May 8, 2012

    Sure they can. I never said that they didn't. What I said was that in my experience there aren't enough qualified and credentialed teachers to teach core subjects. If the choice is between a run-of-the-mill sub who is subbing because he has nothing better to do and a TFA candidate who has at least expressed an interest in teaching and who has gone through a training program (however minimal), then I think the choice is clear.
     
  36. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    May 8, 2012

    Interesting job of selective quotation and selective reading, Tyler B, though you've only succeeded in misrepresenting a small part of the first paragraph of what Caesar actually said, blowing off the live and painful issue she poses in the remaining paragraphs, and reinforcing the impression that you believe that anyone who doesn't think exactly as you do is the enemy.

    This is in fact the tragedy of public education today: each of the camps is being encouraged to rat out the other camps' shortcomings in hopes of distracting others from noticing their own.
     
  37. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    May 8, 2012

    That makes sense to me. I think we care about the students so much, I'd take a talented TFA over a lessor fully-trained sub.

    Caesar753, I taught in your school, albeit in a different state, for 12 years so I understand your feelings. When a school in the rich part of town won an award for the state's highest scores, the principal said it was all due to the staff. At that time I wanted her staff to change places with us and see if my struggling students could be brought up to the rich kids' level by her staff.





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  38. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Whoa, TeacherGoupie, you sound very angry. I bet you are a good teacher, though, and don't misinterpret your students' comments then make harsh judgements based on a error.

    You never responded to the question in this thread. What do you think of TFA?





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  39. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Go back and reread Caesar's post, Tyler B., since it's pretty clear you still haven't bothered to do so. Or does it constitute too grave a challenge to the world as you believe it is?
     
  40. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    May 9, 2012

    TeacherGroupie, you seem very angry, and I have no idea why. I can only guess that you are somehow associated with TFA and are taking my comments personally. It was never my intention to bring this to a personal level. This is about a policy that I think weakens public education. If you think differently, then voice your opinion so we can all learn. When you attack someone personally over their opinion, you make your point of view seems thin and irrelevant.

    Caesar is the most noble type of teacher since she gets so little community/district support, yet she carries on doing the good work of teaching. This is the purest and highest level of teaching possible.




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    http://ed-is-life.blogspot.com/ and http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/
     
  41. greendream

    greendream Cohort

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    May 9, 2012

    I think Caesar brings up a good point. It seems impossible to some, but in some areas there is still a teacher shortage. The reason it doesn't seem like it is that a lot of people just aren't willing to relocate like the TFA teachers are. They enter the program like it's the military. They relocate, they live together, they are young and usually single with no children, so they don't mind living for two years in a place where they have no intention of settling down. On the other hand, most of us traditional ed majors are looking for a place to grow roots, and we don't want to do that in inner-city Detroit or rural Mississippi.
     
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