I got a lot of feedback from the ‘Calling All Quitters’ post from a few weeks ago. I had figured that many of the people who quit would have written about the inadequate training model, strengthening my thesis that it’s really time to call for an improvement.
Many of the people who responded, however, spoke of being ‘misplaced.’ I thought I’d write a little about this phenomenon. For twenty years, the TFA interview has always had the litmus test scenario: “What would you do if you trained to teach high school math, and at the last minute you were told that the place with the most need was a first grade classroom. Would you quit?” Anyone who got into TFA knew that the only way to answer that question is to say “I would not quit,” whether it was true or not. I remember after TFA interviewed me and also another guy I knew at Tufts and afterwards the other guy told me that when they posed that scenario to him, he had said that he would quit. Then he told me that he was glad they warned him of that possibility since he hadn’t considered that when he applied.
Well, I thought he was not very strategic. I didn’t think I would quit in that situation, but even if I thought I might I would have still said the same thing. You’ve got to be smart enough to say the right things at an interview.
That question is supposed to test the flexibility of the candidate, but it really doesn’t test anything but how well you can ace an interview or how naive you are, thinking you have any idea what a challenge it is to teach in a grade level where you have absolutely no training.
But a certain percentage of people, I’m not sure what that percentage is, do get misplaced. They train for one thing and then the needs of the district require them to accept a position in a completely different grade or subject level. And from the responses to the ‘calling all quitters’ post, some of them do eventually quit, regardless of what they said at the interview. Then, according to one of the comments, TFA staff reminds the CM that they said in their interview that they wouldn’t quit.
What I’m wondering is, first, what the ‘quit rate’ for CMs who are misplaced is (I’m guessing it’s got to be at least double the people who are placed properly, or about 20% — this is just a guess, remember), or at least what the success rate is — how well, do these misplaced CMs really do? Assuming these numbers are as scary as I’d expect them to be the next natural question is why does TFA ever misplace people?
Five weeks of training, by anyone’s measure, is not a lot of time to master all the nuances of teaching. The student teaching is about four weeks, but that is surely the most valuable component as CMs get to experience actual kids who quickly prove how unpredictable kids can be. Now I think that the training is very inefficient, but I do think that it’s ‘decent.’ Certainly someone with no experience with a certain grade level is at a serious disadvantage.
So the real question is, what can TFA do when the jobs they hoped would be there simply are not there? If misplacing people almost guarantees failure, what else can they do? If misplacing weren’t even an option, what ‘out of the box’ possibilities are there?
Maybe the CMs can get paid full teaching salaries and health benefits by TFA while they await openings that relate to the training they received either in the region they have moved to or maybe even in another TFA region. TFA could foot the bill for relocation if a CM has to move to another region. While they wait for appropriate placement, perhaps these CMs could be substitute teachers and that way they can be getting more experience, while TFA could make up the difference of the money they make while subbing.
I realize that this solution costs money — precious money that could be used to help fuel the recruitment effort. But if the goal is to narrow the achievement gap, TFA has no business sending someone into a situation where he or she has an extremely high chance of quitting.
Of course all of this is speculative on what the quit rate of the misplaced CMs is. Any stories out there from CMs who were misplaced and had great experiences?