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TFA Says No To Beefing Up Its Corps Members' Classroom Impact

Hopkins_meganToo bad that the recent set of Kappan articles about TFA aren't free online so more folks could read Megan Hopkins' proposals for revamping TFA -- and Wendy Kopp's fascinating "no thanks" response.

Polite and measured in her writing, Hopkins doesn't come off as a a fire-breathingTFA-hater.  She proposes that TFA add a residency year to the two-year TFA model, provide better PD, and add incentives for teachers to stay in the classroom longer. 

Kopp responds that TFA has improved its PD and support for classroom teachers (apparently reducing mentors' caseloads from 50 to 32) but that bigger changes like reduced apprentice salaries and three-year commitments would scare off lots of candidates.  This is probably true.  But TFA already has way more qualified candidates than it needs.  And has access to money that could be used to subsidize salaries and encourage longer classroom stints.

Kopp also talks a lot about building a "massive force of leaders" to change education -- seemingly belittling much of its teachers' classroom efforts.  This is what I don't get.  If effective instruction is still a TFA goal, then why not make bigger moves to improve it?  And if education leadership is the real goal, then why not get rid of the classroom piece and focus on leadership?

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How does TFA have way more qualified applicants than it needs?

25000 applicants for 3700 spots seems like they're in good shape on the recruiting side:

"This year Teach for America applications jumped to 25,000 from 18,000 last year — a 37 percent increase. And this fall, the organization will place 3,700 new teachers in classrooms across the country, up from 2,900 last year."

http://www.nextstudent.com/student-loan-blog/blogs/sample_weblog/archive/2008/06/24/836.aspx

Hopkins' ideas are worth discussing for any alternative certification program, not just TFA, but two points you make about TFA are slightly off...

"And if education leadership is the real goal, then why not get rid of the classroom piece and focus on leadership?"

Because while future leadership is one goal, the classroom teaching is meant to provide experience and context for that leadership - what America doesn't need are thousands more ed policy wonks (or ed reporters) who can't relate to how policy influences affect the classroom level.

Also, while they are very successful at recruiting, TFA doesn't have a set number of "spots" or a quota - they work to take as many qualified candidates that apply and are selected.

What year was Hopkins in TFA? There have been major advancements in training and ongoing support over the last five years. It would be great if she provided some context for her experiences?

"the classroom teaching is meant to provide experience and context for that leadership"

A 2 year stint provides little enough exerience and context for leadership.
Experienced teachers have little respect for people who ran out of the classroom as soon as they could. I never understood why if you loved teaching you would leave. I had policy ideas yet never aspired to a leadership role because I just couldn't see myself as not being a teacher. It is this spirit - a love of teaching - that we need more of, not the idea of put your toe in the water and then go tell others who put their whole bodies in what to do and how to do it.

A mentor caseload of 32 new teachers?!?! Down from 50?!?! Ouch.

My organization - the New Teacher Center - recommends a caseload of no more than 15 new teachers for our induction coaches. And in high-need schools that TFA serves, we recommend no more than 12 new teachers per mentor.

Induction research is most compelling on the issue of the amount of time that a mentor spends with a new teacher and how important that it to transform teaching practice. We recommend minimum mentor contact time of 1.25-2.5 hours per week for every new educator.

To achieve the minimum, 1.25 hours per week, with a caseload of 32 teachers, it would require 40 hours. That doesn't save much time for travel, paperwork, administrative duties, on-going mentor training, etc.

I look forward to reading the article whenever I can obtain a copy.

Kopp's reaction merely reinforces the obvious - TFA is not about helping children, but is rather part of a "reform" movement that seeks to lower costs by staffing schools with new teachers who will make the lowest salaries on the scale.

TFA is a superb learning organization. It has continually improved the preparation and support for its corp members, infusing the wisdom of practice into into training and infrastructure support. In an ideal world, of course, there would be more support and more training, but the world of K-12 education is far from ideal. TFA corps members are significantly better teachers, providing substantially better education, than would be otherwise possible in classrooms where they are teaching

I have never met a teacher-TFA, Teaching Fellows, or "traditional route" who is "superb" - be they from Ivy League or State University.
Some teachers are good from the start, but never as good as those with experience.
I know because I mentor first year teachers.
One day, I might write a book about what I see from these "highly qualified" individuals in the classroom.
For now, be assured that some of it is frightening.

I mentored two teachers last year, which is the maximum I think my district would allow. I don't get any reduction in my regular teaching duties to do that (I do receive a tiny stipend), and, although it varies depending on the rhythm of the school year, I probably spend about two hours a week with each mentee. Fifty would seem a lot. I don't have anything against TFA, not being a district that would consider using it, but I am also deeply suspicious of anyone who teaches for two years and thinks they know enough to do policy. It is better than no teaching experience at all, but at two years you've barely figured out what you're doing. I'm one of those teachers who was good from the start, but now I look back and shudder at some of what I did; and with seven years under my belt, I feel I should be a whole lot better than I am.

In my current position I have the wonderful opportunity to mentor beginning teachers; mostly teachers from TFA and Teaching Fellows. I believe that the basic premise of those programs is completely wrong. First to third year teachers should NOT be placed in high needs schools. Beginning teachers should be placed in schools that will support them professional and then, hopefully, they will decided to go where they are needed.

I am appalled and always will be to see the sparkle and life drain out of my beginning teachers' eyes because they are throw into the hardest to staff classrooms and expected to flourish as a veteran teacher! GO FIGURE!

I definitely believe that these programs need to be revamp...no overhaul.

mn, n

mlm.

Hey, I clicked preview and it posted, so now I have to make corrections!! Sorry about that!

Corrections below to the previous post:

I am appalled and always will be to see the sparkle and life drain out of my beginning teachers' eyes because they are thrown into the hardest to staff classrooms and expected to flourish as a veteran teacher! GO FIGURE!

I definitely believe that these programs need to be revamped...no overhauled.

While I think we could argue over a number of hours that a PD should spend with a new teacher, I think the more important piece to consider is the quality of the mentorship. To me, someone who has only been in the classroom for two years and then scurried out to take a more "administrative" role as a PD is not qualified or capable of mentoring more than a handful of new teachers.
Another criticism that comes along with a discussion of PDs and other administrative roles is one that addresses the organizational integrity of TFA. Corps members completing their two years are all too often drawn out of the classroom to work for the organization in various roles. The starting pay for even the bottom-level staff members is around 10% more than their previous teacher salary. They indeed lure people out of the classroom with a more glamorous paycheck and benefits, and don't even entertain the idea of staying in the classroom. OK, so yes of course they need individuals to run the organization, but the turnover-rate for these positions is between 1-3 years also, so do we think that these positions ever have a chance to increase their effectiveness either?...
A solution? Spend less time recruiting from your pool of inexperienced teachers, and more time looking outside of the organization to others who have had valuable experience in the field and can provide true insight and support for the organization's growth.

Since when is classroom teaching meant to provide experience and context for future educational leadership?

CLASSROOM TEACHING IS MEANT TO EDUCATE CHILDREN! And that means the children enrolled in the class, not the children assigned to teach it.

What America doesn't need are thousands more ed policy wonks who think they know everything about "fixing" public education by virtue of a two-year charity stint in a public school classroom. A little knowledge can truly be a dangerous thing. Case in point? That nutty TFA "success story" now running the entire DC public school system after three! big! years! of teaching experience. Not only is she firing staff right and left to make room for more TFA people, but she's established a scheme by which public school students are PAID for getting good grades.

How the hell cynical is that? TFA pays all kind of lip service to high expectations, and if we provide the opportunities they've been lacking, the students will excel, blah blah blah. But when push comes to shove in a challenging school district, their answer is to bribe the kids with cash? They'll be in for one hell of a shock when they go to college! In fact, maybe Stanford and Harvard and Yale should adopt the TFA model, do away with tuition, and pay their students for grades too! How can we expect any students to succeed if the only motivations they have are self initiative, hope for a happy future, and love of learning for its own sake?

It's a given, of course, that Ivy League students (many of the TFA trainees, for example) are capable of grasping those concepts. They know that education is a privilege, and of course they understand why the opportunity involves personal effort and sacrifice.

But the public school students in Washington DC? Hey, they're just...different! Their superintendent can't be expected to instill such values in a bunch of...you know. All THOSE people understand is immediate gratification. She's got to pay them off...if not to get good grades out of them, then at least to shut them up about the parade of two-year missionaries wandering into the jungle through that TFA revolving door, and then right back out again to "bigger and better things" once they can slap "teaching experience" on their resumes.

The whole thing stinks. The students of DC are NOT primitive little monkeys! Nor do public schools anywhere exist to provide training fodder, guinea pigs, or more funding for Wendy Kopp and her cronies. The students aren't there for TFA's benefit. TFA should be there for the students' benefit; end of story. Otherwise they should get the hell out.

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