Near As I Can Figure, TFA Sucks

Posted on September 23, 2013Filed Under student teachers, Teacher Evaluation, Teaching | 2 Comments

Today, some geniuses in one class were doing the old “what if I” game with me, trying to dream up scenarios where they might be able to circumvent the rules/regulations in my class.

“What if I had my friend… What if my mom…” and etc.

God forbid they were surprised to find that I not only predicted most of their excuses and work-arounds, but that I had a few they hadn’t even thought of.

As I tell them every year, “Remember I was in seventh grade once too, you know. And I was still me, even then. Anything you can even imagine doing around here, I’ve already been whacked with a ruler for. Or yelled at by my principal for. So don’t even go there.”

What goes unsaid, but should be understood by those outside the profession, is that it also takes a lot of experience. Only those of us who have been doing it awhile have the radar tuned to the junior high frequency. Even though I could probably recall all my tricks from seventh grade when I started teaching, I wasn’t able to CALL upon them. Only after seeing the patterns of students’ behaviors over the years was I able to start using my experiences to help my teaching.

At first for me, it was the old “I don’t want to be that old hard a** guy that’s no fun.” By the end of my quarter of first student teaching, I knew this to be a classic rookie error.

I made a lot of classic rookie errors.

Number one was the attitude. I came in thinking I already knew how to do this. I just wanted to know WHAT to teach. Gimme a curriculum, a reading list, and let me at ’em.

Advice from the wily veteran cooperating teacher who’d been at this 25 years? Who needs it?

I’m new! I’m fresh! I’m enthusiastic! Yay!

Thank goodness I’m a quick study. It took me two days to realize I didn’t actually know how to do this. They were just being polite the first day because they liked my long hair.

All of this is intro for my this article I read today on The Atlantic website: “I Quit Teach for America.”

Much as I might deride the current teacher-education system, it is still infinitely better (at least here in Cali) than the atrocity that is TFA. This is the kind of shtuff that makes you think about moving to Finland or Luxembourg. (BRRRRRRRRRRRR. Couldn’t do it. Mrs. M? In Finland, they’re only in front of students 4 hours a day.)

Some juicy quotes:

 

Typical instructional training included only the most basic framework; one guide to introducing new material told us to “emphasize key points, command student attention, actively involve students, and check for understanding.” We were told that “uncommon techniques” included “setting high academic expectations, structuring and delivering your lessons, engaging students in your lessons, communicating high behavioral expectations, and building character and trust.” Specific tips included “you provide the answer; the student repeats the answer”; “ask students to make an exact replica in their notes of what you write on the board”; and “respond quickly to misunderstandings.” After observing and teaching alongside non-TFA teachers at my placement school, I can confidently say that these approaches are not “uncommon.”

The truth was, the five-week training program had not prepared me adequately.

During my training, I taught a group of nine well-behaved third-graders who had failed the state reading test and hoped to make it to fourth grade. Working with three other corps members, which created a generous teacher-student ratio, I had ample time for one-on-one instruction.

That classroom training was completely unlike the situation I now faced in Atlanta: teaching math and science to two 20-person groups of rotating, difficult fifth-graders—fifth-graders so difficult that multiple substitute teachers would vow never to teach fifth grade at our school again.

I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that “I did the same thing last year and I passed.” The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.

In the last few free minutes before testing begins, Ms. Jones is sharing her candid, and often hilarious, views on first-year teaching. “It’s wrong!” she whispers passionately, her eyebrows shoot up far into her forehead. Ms. Jones is known as a no-nonsense veteran teacher, and I had found her quite intimidating before I realized she is incredibly kind. “It’s wrong to put teachers in the classroom with no experience, Ms. Blanchard. I went through a teaching program, and I taught in four different classrooms before I ever had these kids on my own.” Looking at Ms. Jones’ perfectly behaved, high-achieving third-graders and comparing them with my own unruly students, I can see her point. The intercom buzzes to announce a five-minute warning before testing will begin, and that reminds Ms. Jones of the labyrinthine set of test procedures to come. “Make sure they have their pencils, Ms. Blanchard, we can’t have any testing irregularities. You know we have to cover ourselves. Everyone’s watching this building, and I don’t know about you, but Ms. Jones is not fixing to be on Channel 2 tonight.”

Here’s the whole article.

Comments

2 Responses to “Near As I Can Figure, TFA Sucks”

  1. Mrs. M~ on September 24th, 2013 8:46 am

    You know me–hale and hearty and used to the cold! But being on a plane long enough to get to Finland would do me in. One of these days, you will see me on YouTube. I will be the person having a meltdown screaming “Get me off this plane!” like Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids. Or like John Lithgow’s character in The Twilight Zone movie from 1983. I fly, but in my head those scenes happen over and over again. We midwesterners like our feet on the ground. Covered in snow. 🙂

  2. Meg on September 29th, 2013 6:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing the article! My sister’s friend just finished a year of TFA and quit for similar reasons.

    I’m not a fan of TFA since they just throw people in figuring “they went to school, they can teach!”. I’m sorry. I use a bathroom multiple times a day, and I’m still not a plumber.

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