Monday, April 09, 2007

Acts 9:18... kinda

I have, in the past, been critical of Teach For America, for promoting service over professionalism, for a borderline unethical disregard of further teaching, and most relevantly, for pursuing a two-sided approach to "the movement," that wildly over-estimates the achievement gap-closing potential two years of poor-to-mediocre teaching will have on the pursuit of an alum's law/ policy/ business career.

At the risk of belaboring, it is this last issue that is the most unfortunate. Oft-repeated and oft-cited, the duh-invoking notion that the entirety of the achievement gap cannot be closed solely from within the school site has germinated into a nice talking point, an easily applied defense of a variety of policy mistakes. Folks in my neck of the TFA woods are growing a lot more direct in voicing this two-parts-to-the-movement ideology, pushing the notion that they've hit on something special and unique.

TFA has been slow to realize that a bunch of people with extremely limited experience attempting to shape policy is not new at all.

But fine. There are some real bottom line issues surrounding this approach, and my real issue here is not with the underlying philosophy, but with the weight applied to the two parts ideology. In terms of human capital, capital capital, time, effort, and all other measurables, it is fairly clear that TFA would weight the importance of its two-parts approach as about 20-80 teaching to "continuing-to-lead." Or maybe it's more like this:

Years 1-2: Teaching 100% / Other pursuits 0%
Years 3: Teaching 30% / Other pursuits 70%
Beyond: Teaching 0% / Other pursuits 100%

In any event, last week my inbox filled up (seriously, numerous forwards with subject lines like did you see this?) with this announcement for a TFA event sub-titled: Long Term Paths in Teaching. The event promises a discussion of "school site leadership, National Board Certification, considering administrative roles, avoiding burnout, [and] professional development" and it represents the first substantive shift in the relative weight TFA assigns to the two-parts approach. While I fear that folks involved in the tangential charter "movement" will dominate panel membership, I nevertheless applaud the effort and hope it is indicative of further improvements/ realizations in this area.


Anonymous H. said...

Maybe they've been reading your blog:P
After all, some ability to react constructively to criticism from within its own ranks should be expected of an organization like TFA.

Hope you'll write here about what they suggest with regard to avoiding burnout, especially about the relative emphasis on 1) having a life and independent sources of emotional stability outside of work, and 2) taking measures to derive more joy and less stress from the actual teaching job.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Nancy Flanagan said...

Regained your sight, huh?

I am a retired teacher (31 years, with some validating awards and credentials, including National Board Certification). I am now a doctoral student in Ed Policy at a well-respected university. The Ed Policy department aggressively recruits TFA teachers into the program, and treats them like sages when they come. There is this assumption that former TFAers have a real-world credibility that other members of my cohort (who come from economics, public policy and quantitative measurement backgrounds) don't have. Their two years in Alabama or Houston make them, somehow, wiser than the rest of us. As for me--well, I've had members of my cohort tell me they can't believe any sentient person could teach for 30 years. So much for a true profession.

Don't misunderstand--I respect the TFA folks who now plan to launch careers in education policy. And the best teacher in my former school spent two years in TFA, after graduating from one of the Midwest Ivys with a degree in English literature. She fell in love with teaching (although she describes her first two years as comparable to Indiana Jones, when he says "we're making this up as we go along")--came back home and got an MAT in early literacy. She was a gifted teacher, and perhaps never would have found her calling, if not for what she admits was an impulse move--applying for TFA rather than going to grad school like everyone else.

Anytime we portray teaching as missionary work, however, we are misleading the public. Teaching is complex intellectual and moral work, and suggesting that anyone (no matter how smart) can master it in a few months is simply false. Good teachers build a practice over time and through reflection. A revolving door of teachers (even teachers who got 33s on their ACTs) doesn't help kids or schools.

You might like to take a look at my Teacher Leaders Network blog on a similar theme. Even if you don't read it, the title might amuse you:

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They do read your blog... I emailed Scroggins the link when he first left us in STL for the Bay Area. :-)

6:58 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Not my sight, Nancy, THEIR sight.

I couldn't agree more with your third paragraph. We need to endlessly repeat those ideas until they begin to germinate across the board.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Your perspective on TFA made me curious about comparisons between it and Troops to Teachers.

What I found, showed that Troops for Teachers was more effective and that they were more likely to commit to teaching in the long term.

12:07 PM  

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