Alright. Nothing clever this week, so we’ll get right into it. Last time, we went over Teach for America’s application process; some of you may or may not have picked up that although it is difficult and lengthy, you’re likely to make it through if you are willing to put in the effort.
If you’re accepted, there is some training to go through over the summer. For those of you who still remember their days of state-sponsored, mandatory education, you may also remember that there were a number of student teachers hanging about, observing the professional teachers meaningfully before they’re set loose in the wild. There is a slight difference in procedure, however. Regular student teachers have a number of years in training, during which they gradually take on more responsibilities. With TFA you will have about 2 months of formal instruction; the experience varies by region, or so I am told.
So. How does one acquire the skills to instruct a classroom full of children of varying age, intellect, and socioeconomic status in the space of one summer? Yeah, this is one of my bigger gripes with the program. Most of the instruction seems to be more concerned with building a sense of community within the group of soon-to-be teachers and instilling the values of TFA, rather than lessons with a more practical application. For example, much of the time in the beginning was devoted to abstract ideas of teaching. Practical exercises, that is, actually going into a summer school classroom and teaching, did not begin until a month into the program. This leaves people with a month of actual experience; less for some regions. This one month also has varying levels of effectiveness, since I’ve heard firsthand of more than one case of an applicant being accepted into a teaching job at a high school and then be sent to an elementary school for training.
So what about Teach for America’s values? Well, aside from the usual mantras involving perseverance and acting for the greater good, there is one other that stands out. “Results.” Teach for America is fixated on results to the point of discomfort. I’m not trying to say that results are unimportant; please don’t get that impression. You see, the main reason (if not the reason) that TFA has become popular among public schools, is that they promise one point five years of growth. And most of the time, they deliver. But how do we determine “growth”? By standardized testing, of course. Lots of it. Some of us may already see where this uninhibited pursuit of results may lead. The curriculum will start bending to the tests, regardless of the material. This also puts a huge amount of stress on the teachers, which leads to more complications. Under pressure to bring in the projected “growth,” sometimes the easier solution is to force out the bad students. This of course, also inspires a hornet’s nest of inflated test results, more commonly known as “cheating.”
Needless to say, there is a lot of “learning on the job” for this position. If I’ve dashed your hopes of applying to Teach for America and you will now seek a higher paying and less demanding means of employment instead, then I’ve saved you a great deal of trial and hardship. It also means I’ve already done my good deed for the month. You can thank me later.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Blakley.