TFA continues to set new corps members up for failure

I miss the era when my blog was hosted on the website.  Back then the site was promoted by TFA as a place where current corps members and alumni could blog and communicate through comments.  Until the site went down, it was a happening place with at least twenty different bloggers contributing to the conversation.  It was also my way of finding out what TFA was up to, particularly with regard to the summer institute training sites.

Back before TFA had let their greed for money and power distort their original purpose, my main issue with them was the way they cheat the corps members out of an authentic training experience.  I’ve said throughout the years that I think that most people are capable of becoming competent teachers and that it is even possible to get enough training in a summer that the first year does not have to be a disaster.  And even though TFA has an annual budget of about $300 million, they simply refuse to invest the resources it would take to improve the training.  In the early 1990s there were about 1,000 corps members a year and the annual budget was more like $10 million.  Now they have a bit more than 4,000 corps members yet they have about 30 times the amount of money.  Where is all that money going?

I haven’t heard much from the new TFA 2015 class.  Aside from some “Yay! I got into TFA” tweets, they are an oddly silent bunch of leaders.  They don’t blog, they don’t tweet.  Not to start any conspiracy theories, but possibly they have been discouraged by the organization.  Just seems strange that not one out of 4,000 people is blogging their way through their experience.

Back in the day before was gutted, I’d sometimes, in my less-well-advised posts, take something I’d read on a new corps member’s blog and critique it or analyze it.  This made some people upset, I remember, including a post from another alum called Don’t Let Gary Rubinstein Bully You.

My critiques, from my perspective, serve two purposes:  The first, yes, is to shine a light on how negligent TFA is in their training.  They are pretty much negligent in every aspect of the organization, but coming up with tangible proof of this negligence in perhaps the most important branch of TFA does expose how little they care about improving.  The other purpose, though, is to help the misguided TFA corps member who, by no fault of his or her own, has been a victim of the bait-and-switch and is going through a third rate training experience and headed toward a disastrous first year.  TFA allows this to happen since they don’t really care about individual corps members struggling, even having mental breakdowns, as long as there are a few success stories, the TFA PR machine can continue running.  The reaction to one of my posts that called me a ‘bully’ was not by the corps member that I was critiquing.  That corps member actually wrote a response thanking me and he and I kept in touch throughout his time in teaching.

OK, disclaimer set up is now complete.

So the TFA Houston institute is producing a short five part documentary where they chose six new corps members and interviewed them at different points throughout the five week institute.  As TFA is so careful with their public image, I’m surprised that they would do this, actually.  Also, I commend the six new corps members for being willing to go on camera and be seen at vulnerable times.

Seeing the six corps members, Jae, Jonathan, Madison, Tyler, Julia, and Mary Beth it is clear that TFA did a fine job in selection.  All six are bright, articulate, motivated, and caring.

Of the six, the biggest wild card is clearly Tyler.  It’s not that I don’t think he is a very bright, intense, and passionate young man, nor do I think that he is not capable of becoming a first rate teacher.  I actually think that most people, if given the proper training, can become pretty good teachers.  Teaching is hard, but with proper preparation it isn’t ‘that’ hard.  Kind of like driving a car isn’t that hard, but you want to get a lot of hours of practice on side streets before taking a spin on the Autobahn.

In the first video, Tyler says the quintessential TFA response to “Why do you want to be a teacher?”

“I’m coming to teach because I fundamentally believe that every child can do it.  You just need someone who believes in you and won’t give up, and is willing to work hard to take you to your goal.”

Though this sound innocuous enough, notice the implied ‘teacher bashing’ that has become the life blood of TFA?  Obviously the students he will teach have only had teachers who did give up on them and were not willing to work very hard to take them to their goal.  TFA has to use this message in their recruitment since otherwise many of these very motivated young people would not be willing to do it.  “The kids of America need you since the teachers they have are too lazy and uncaring for this work.”

I should point out again, I like Tyler.  I’d think he has an enthusiasm and energy and quirkiness that will eventually be a real asset in the classroom — assuming that he can channel it in the beginning of his career.  And this is why watching these videos makes me sad since I believe based on another video that was publicly posted that Tyler’s student teaching class has only 5 students in it and this is a disservice to him and to the students that he will soon teach. (Though I do like the professional dress he’s got going.)  Tyler should ask his trainer why he has such a small class and say he wants “no excuses,” as TFA is known to demand of everyone else.

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Some people are natural ‘teachers,’ meaning that their natural personality will instantly command respect in the classroom.  Most people are not naturals in that way and Tyler is one who will need to practice a lot to channel his energy in a way that will not lose his class.  And twelve hours with five students is not going to do it.  I’m going to advise Tyler, if he reads this, to watch the video of the workshop I used to do at the TFA institute where I explain how to adapt your personality to minimize risk in the classroom.

At the end of video two, Michael, a veteran soldier who surely is glad that his training for combat was better than the junk he is now experiencing, says “It is not easy to disrupt the system,” another ‘reformer’ cliche.  Again TFA thrives on the premise that lazy teachers preserve the ‘status quo’ so that hard working teachers are needed to ‘disrupt’ it.  The word, ‘disruption’, certainly takes on new meaning when we see how it gets played out to the extreme, and to the benefit of TFA, in places like New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, and most recently, Newark where TFA hero Cami Anderson was booted for being disruptive to the point of marginalizing the desires of the community there.

Two of the six corps members have family members that are in education.  Julia says her parent are both teachers.  What do her parents think of the Race To The Top that TFA so loves?  Mary Beth’s father is a current high school principal.  What does he think when TFA icon Michelle Rhee comes on TV and says that American schools, even the ones that are supposedly ‘good’, are actually all doing a horrible job?  What is his reaction when he hears about Alabama needing more charter schools that TFA so treasures?  My guess is that their parents haven’t made the connection between TFA and the corporate school ‘reformers’ who have been wreaking havoc on American students and teachers since the passage of No Child Left Behind under Bush and intensified with Obama’s Race To The Top.

In video three, we see Julia speak about how behind her students are and offers this as one of the reasons:

It’s another world.  It’s a world where these kids get tested in writing every three years and, thus, are only trained in writing every three years.

I wonder why she thinks this.  While it is true that reading and math have dominated the curriculum ever since state test scores in reading and math have become the goal of all education, especially with the TFA-trained leaders and their ‘reformer’ allies.  Maybe she is saying that teachers are being negligent because they only teach to the two big tests?  I’m not sure if this is a critique of the over testing of things that don’t include writing, or a wish that there were more testing which would include more writing tests.  Or is this another faulty assumption that the majority of teachers these students had until now (of course it is likely that many of these students in Houston had TFA teachers at one time since Houston is a big TFA city — Houston 1991 in the house!) were negligent in their teaching of writing.

In video three we also see the typical TFA narrative with Madison’s and Mary Beth’s transformation from a rough start to things starting to turn around after about a week.  With tiny classes of about 15 students, I suppose this can happen, but I worry they will have a false idea of what the arc of a typical first year is.  That workshop I used to do (and my books — if any of these six contact me, I’ll gladly send them free copies) go into this in grueling detail.

In video four, Julia (Wearing jeans while teaching!  Why is the TFA staff OK with this?) is seeing big improvements after six day.  Jae’s class is noticeably larger than the classes of the other corps members from what I can see.  Michael and Madison both say that they are learning how to “be themselves” which is some of the more oversimplified advice for new teachers and can be quite dangerous.  The most encouraging part is the revelation by both Tyler and Madison about breaking down the process of analyzing a story with a graphic organizer.  We hear so much about “have high expectations” yet there is also the somewhat opposite practice of “scaffolding” which, by definition, is lowering your expectations in order to help students learn a skill with a certain degree of hand-holding.  This is why I do think there is hope for Tyler and why I am angered that their training experience is inadequate.

Episode five is coming soon (assuming the entire project isn’t shut down by my bringing attention to it!  Why does everything I touch turn to mud?) and, not to put any pressure on these six I know they have enough to worry about, I hope that they’ll be willing to have a follow up interview with me six months from now (and that TFA permits them to).

TFA is like a very ugly mosaic despite each of the individual little squares being perfectly fine.  I think TFA did a nice job in selecting these corps members and also in choosing them for this video.  I can see all six of these corps members teaching beyond their two year commitment and they do not seem like the type that are going to grow up and become heartless TFA ‘reform’ leaders and join the profitable world of teacher scapegoating.  I know I’m going to take some criticism for this post, as happens whenever I do one like this.  Listen, it’s not my fault that TFA continues to neglect the training program.  I’ve been begging them to fix it for twenty years and I have email threads to prove it!

Teachers are constantly being evaluated by administrators, and even by their own kids, so I hope a bit of free, though not requested, evaluation from a veteran teacher who was a one time teacher trainer for TFA and also wrote a few books about teaching isn’t so bad.  I don’t do this to ridicule them, but to bring attention to TFA’s failure to take seriously their responsibility to provide their trainees with proper training.

Note:  This has been a bit of an annual tradition for me.

For my advice to 2014 corps members go here.

For my advice to 2013 (including my famous not-quite ‘viral video message) corps members go here.

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35 Responses to TFA continues to set new corps members up for failure

  1. Joe Nathan says:

    Probably should not expect you to raise any concerns about the quasi private high school where you teach – that screens out kids with special needs who aren’t at the very top of traditional tests. No, your energy goes to criticize others who have not retreated between the high walls that your school presents.

    • chadsommer says:

      I know Gary doesn’t need me to defend him, but Joe, where Gary teaches has NOTHING to do with the valid criticisms he raises about TFA. Please know, when TFA “true believers” ignore the issues raised by TFA critics and then try to change the subject or go on personal attacks, it just magnifies how bankrupt TFA policies and positions are.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Chadsommer, while Gary claims concern about students taught by TFA, he avoids teaching students who represent a cross section of students. His presence at such a discriminatory school shows who he is most concerned about. “Actions speak louder than words.”

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      Gary teaches at a public high school that is explicitly and publicly open about its exclusive admittance criteria (the justness of which is another topic for another day), whereas Joe Nathan seeks to deflect Gaty’s valid criticism of TFA, and shills for private-controlled charter schools that pretend to serve the general public school population, but overwhelmingly don’t.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Actually in most states charters enroll a higher % of low income and students of color than the overall population. Much of my work over 45 years has been to help create public schools open to all, and legislation that promotes and encourages public schools open to all. I’ve vigorously challenged and worked at local, state and national levels to make it more difficult or illegal to create public schools, district or charter, that use admissions tests.
        Many charter opponents clearly are just fine with quasi private “public schools” that use standardized tests they claim to despise to keep out most students.

      • KrazyTA says:

        Michael Fiorillo: ah, I see that you don’t have the “right corps member mindset” [see this blog, 2-22-2014, Guest Post Series: Part One.]

        Let me help you along. Breath deeply, focus, and repeat over and over again until your mind is empty of all rational thought: the charter midyear dump doesn’t exist, the charter midyear dump doesn’t exist, the charter midyear dump doesn’t exist…

        And also, and forever, keep in mind that charter schools are just like public schools—except they’re better.

        Let me know when you’ve reached Nirvana and its blissful $tudent $ucce$$.


    • booklady says:

      Mr Nathan,
      People in the NY metro area have sincere respect for Stuyvesant HS. Given that NYC public schools educate ~1 million students, offering schools like Bronx HS Science, Brooklyn Tech, Stuy means that youngsters who are jazzed by math/sci can access electives that may not be offered in neighborhood comprehensive HSs. About 26,000 8th graders take the specialized HS entrance tests–that’s more than the K-12 enrollment in many districts. According to Wikipedia there are free practice sessions (starting in 6th grade) for the admission tests.

  2. Jaeil Kim says:

    Hey Gary!

    First and foremost, thank you for your attention and honest opinions. As a first year teacher, I’m aware that there is a lot to learn and fix along the way. You mentioned wanting to do a follow up interview if TFA permits, and I am actually interested. I am very open to different ideas and viewpoints, especially if I can grow as a better educator for the students. If I am not mistaken, it seems like you are a very passionate educator, as well as a serious researcher for excellent education. I would love to hear more from you and learn! Thank you once again, and please feel free to reach out.

    – Jae

  3. Tyler Alabanza-Behard says:


    I am Tyler of docu-series infamy.

    Your blog post made for a curious reading experience. What is your email address so that I can follow up with you.

  4. What’s this Tyler kid on? He’s popping around in his breeze-block palace like he’s on roids. Glad he’s making gains though – both in understanding what his role is and in appreciating his students’ perspective. Keep chasing those gains, Tyler! You started from the bottom, now you’re there.

  5. Curious says:

    “The kids of America need you since the teachers they have are too lazy and uncaring for this work.” This is a wild misrepresentation of what was communicated in Tyler’s reflection. You’re really stretching to make a case

  6. Hannah Young says:

    Hey Gary,

    I would like to tell you that I am a 2015 corps member and I have been blogging my way through all of this TFA training that you have so eloquently written about ( feel free to critique ). I just finished institute in the delta and I knew the entire time I was being set up for failure. That is not news to me. In fact, that was a common comment among the 415 of us this summer. We all know and we’re all nervous. Now, I appreciate your honesty and openness about all this, but as I said, we’re well aware of the failure we have been prepared for. Could you possibly enlighten us on how we can take what training we have received and make it work in the best way we can? I think what I’m asking for is a more productive article. I’m sure you’ve done one of those before, I would just love to see a brand new article,. up-to-date, with facts to maybe save us from the worst failure. Please and thank you!

    P.S. I worked with Tyler last summer as an Americorps member at Breakthrough Collaborative in Austin, Texas, and he rocked it. If anyone can do this, he can.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Hi Hannah, Thanks for the comment, and I’ll take back my statement that no CM was blogging. Tyler is a very dynamic guy and his ability to adapt could make him successful in the classroom despite TFAs training. I’ll put together a new post with advice and also some links to other things. Search for ‘The don’ts and don’ts of teaching’ article I wrote a few years ago. I’ll get you something new, though, if you are willing to help circulate it.

  7. Joe Nathan says:

    Hannah, since I worked for years with inner city and rural public schools open to all perhaps I can offer a few suggestions.
    a. If you are in an elementary school, meet before school starts with each student and parent/guardian. Ask what’s one thing the parent would like to see the youngster learn in the coming year. Ask the youngster the same question. Ask what kind of thing the family did during the summer. Ask what the youngster is proud of accomplishing. These few questions will give you things you can build on, and help show the youngster & family what they think matters to you.
    b. Contact 2-4 families, 3-4 nights a week in September to tell them something good the youngster did. Families appreciate hearing from teachers, especially if it’s positive. IN some places, families rarely hear from teachers unless it’s about a problem. Don’t ignore problems, but try to remind youngsters & families about positive accomplishments.
    c. Think about ways you can help build in an audience beyond you for some of the work student does. Regardless of the age or subject, there are ways to have students do projects that they can/should present to families, senior citizens and/or other community members.
    d. Do take advantage of what many TFA programs promote – a mentor for you. Also if possible, visit classrooms of other strong teachers.
    e. If you any opportunity to read or see a Teach LIke a Champion video, do so. I especially like the strategies promoted that center on positive responses to youngsters, and quietly, personally re-directing students who are not doing what you want.
    Regardless of the kind of teacher prep program you participate in, there’s a lot to learn as to work directly with youngsters. I was in a traditional one in a highly regarded college but found it not very helpful. Decades later, our daughter and son-in-law also went through what they had been told was a pretty good traditional teacher training program. Again, they found it not very useful.
    Hope those suggestions are useful. Reactions welcome.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Oh Boy. Hannah, I’ll put together something for you, this guy knows as little about practical teaching as he does about education reform in general, which is very little.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Actually, Gary, inner city parent, professional and student groups have given me a variety of awards for my work with students.
        And I worked with a vast array of urban students, rather than hiding behind a huge wall that your school has put up to screen out most students.

      • MathAppeal says:

        This blog is my first exposure to you, via Diane Ravitch. So far, I appreciate your analysis & insight.

        However, your comment alleging that Joe Nathan knows little about either “practical teaching” or “education reform in general” seemed to me to be condescending, ad hominem, & unprofessional.

        If our ultimate goal as educators, writers, & activists is to maximize student outcomes in school and beyond, we need to be able to discuss, debate, and experiment with various theories, approaches, & practices to determine which ones will demonstrate efficacy & success through research. To accomplish this, we need to respect one another, even if we do not support another’s opinion or philosophy.

        Obviously, we cannot stand by if students are in danger. However, I do not see anything harmful in Joe’s suggestions to Hannah. I’m not asserting that these tips are a thorough solution, but I don’t think they lead to your judgment of Joe as largely ignorant on the subject.

        I’m definitely going to get my own blog going soon! Thanks for that impetus.

  8. Under the Radar says:

    I wish I had read this (and everything else you’ve written) before I joined the 2015 corps and spent three weeks having these thoughts take over my brain at Institute. (I ended up cutting my losses and moving back across the country before I invested too much time.) Thank you so much for everything you write here– you’ve eloquently captured pretty much all of my feelings about TFA.

    Before I joined the corps, I had read a lot of criticism for TFA, but I never let it get to me because I was convinced it couldn’t be THAT bad. I was convinced it would be different for me. How can we convince future applicants to the corps that it will not be different for them? How can we make people read your posts and understand that you’re not a cynical asshole who’s not to be trusted, but that you’re really just hoping to keep people from continuing to feed the monster?

  9. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein Gives Good Advice to the TFA Class of 2015 | Diane Ravitch's blog

  10. virginiasgp says:

    Gary, isn’t the most important contribution of TFA simply getting high aptitude college students into the teaching profession? Even teachers with education major degrees say that most of what they learned was done in the classroom. If so, these candidates will learn quickly. Given they are bright, they can explain the concepts with much greater depth. Not all of them will discover teaching is for them nor will all be able to connect with the students. One must experience it to know. But if they can recruit accomplished college kids to teach, isn’t that in and of itself a very worthwhile goal?

    • It’s quite difficult for me to read this comment, Virginia, without inferring that non-TFAs aren’t/weren’t “high aptitude college students.” Yes, I know that the college academic levels for traditional teacher ed programs hover around the 50th percentile. But the implications that
      (a) the teaching profession needs a constant influx of ‘smart temps’;
      (b) if we throw enough of them in the mix, some will choose to remain long-term; and
      (c) these temporary employees will improve student success during and beyond a K-12 education,
      seem rather far-fetched. Furthermore, it’s insulting to both those of us with “high aptitude” who committed to the teaching profession without the “benefit” of TFA, and those of us who may not have been overachievers in college but nevertheless have honed their craft to become top-notch educators.

      • A suggestion.

        Read Chapter Ten of Dana Goldstein’s “The Teacher Wars” and learn about urban residencies. From what I remember, an Urban Residency isn’t interested in the brightest students from the upper middle class. On page 252, Goldstein says: “Stars” were those who were rated highly by principals and who stayed in their jobs for many years. It turned out the stars were more likely than unsuccessful teachers to be thirty or older, to have extensive work experience in fields other than eduction, to be parents, and to have a working class, black, Latino, or white background. … many had graduated from non-elite college and had often begun at community colleges.”

        When I read that, those words stopped me cold. I was thirty when I quit my corporate management job and went back to earn a teaching credential. I was born into poverty with parents that never graduated from high school and were blue collar workers. I started working 30 hour weeks at age 15 and joined the Marines out of high school. After the Marines, I went to college on the GI Bill and started in a community college and never went to one of those elite universities.

        And I went through a full time, year long urban residency program in a fifth grade classroom with a master teacher. The most valuable skills I learned from my master teacher were classroom management, and I didn’t struggle in my first year. I knew exactly what to do and did it.

        From what I’ve learned about TFA, urban residencies are almost the exact opposite and also the most successful when compared to all the other teacher prep programs.

      • virginiasgp says:

        mathappeal, you may not have read my previous posts clarifying my points:

        1. There is no requirement that a teacher have super high aptitude to be effective. In fact, Prof Hanushek has noted how difficult it is to predict exactly who will be effective from background factors. Take Tom Brady for example. He was not overly lauded coming out of college but is one of the top 3 QBs in all of NFL history. Even Round 1 QBs in the NFL are a 50/50 proposition. Nobody is accusing them of not working hard, it’s just that (perceived) talent alone doesn’t guarantee success. The hardest thing folks need to hear is that even with all the ‘credentials” on paper, they may not be cut out for teaching. Of course, that also implies there are undiscovered talents like Brady who are great.

        2. Even though high aptitude candidates might not all be great teachers, on average they are more likely to succeed. More NFL QBs drafted in Round 1 succeed than those drafted in Round 3+. Thus, we want to enlarge the pool of candidates that would be considered “Round 1”. Just like there are many top-flight judges who take the position for less than they could make in the private sector, the same goes for teachers. Nobody is saying there are not lots of high aptitude teachers. It’s just that we need to figure out how to get more high aptitude candidates to at least try teaching. And TFA is one way to do that. Anytime you have 18% of Yale’s graduating class applying to go into teaching (via TFA), that must be a good thing. Many won’t stay and quite a few won’t be cut out to be an effective teacher. But it’s still a great opportunity.

        In the end, success of the football field (not draft grades) is what matters most. The same applies to teaching – what matters most is the success of their students. That is why regardless of their aptitude, VAMs allow us to identify teachers who are actually effective. You don’t get VAM bonus points for graduating from an Ivy League school. Do you disagree with anything that I said?

      • virginiasgp says:

        Lloyd, I need to read the book. From your description, it makes a lot of sense. I saw a lot of my Navy peers go back to college after enlisting for 6 years out of high school. They were more disciplined, focused and had better study skills than most of the college students I knew who attended directly after high school. In addition, older folks have more experiences on which to draw from to inspire kids.

        Much of the Gates Foundation’s MET study reflects how important skills like classroom management are to the success of a teacher. I believe inspiration (hard to measure) is also the cause of much of the lasting effects. Teachers with more “stories” would appear more likely to inspire.

        I am a big fan of the career switcher programs. My county is miserable at recruiting and retaining such folks. Even though they are allowed to pay these switcher teachers anything they like (think starting them at Step 5 based on equivalent experience), they always start them at Step 1. They see these switchers as more of interlopers than true assets.

        I simply don’t foresee that most of our ranks will be filled by career switchers. If it were possible, I would recommend we focus on that channel. Absent a significant portion of career switchers, it makes sense to recruit as many high-aptitude teaching candidates as possible. TFA appears to also value diversity and wants to place minority teachers in minority schools. That should be a good thing, right?

        Finally, a recent article in WaPo showed that only 17% of teachers left within the first five years (contrary to myth that 50% left). Attrition all depends on the reason. If people leave because a job is so competitive (think NFL, management consulting, astronaut or SEAL training), then attrition increases effectiveness. If people leave because of poor working conditions or dissatisfaction with the job, effectiveness is lowered. I suggest that we try to attract as many quality candidates to teaching early on with the understanding that the attrition rate may increase. Schools benefit from having a larger pool from which to pull and then keeping the most effective ones.

      • I’m thinking that 17% you mention who left teaching early might be for the entire country. Just like the PISA test, if we rely on an average, we miss the whole picture. I think if you break down the teacher turnover rate by urban versus rural schools and schools by socioeconomic levels, you will see dramatic differences.

        For instance, this study: How Teaching Conditions Predict Teacher Turnover in California Schools

        “A number of studies have found that teachers are prone to leave schools serving high proportions of low-achieving, low-income, and minority students for more economically and educationally advantaged schools.”

        As for your, “I saw a lot of my Navy peers go back to college after enlisting for 6 years out of high school.”

        I enlisted for three years of active duty and three years of inactive. Everyone enlists for six years but that six years is usually split between three or four years of active duty and two or three inactive duty. I think officers are the ones who have to serve all six years active. There is almost always a choice between three to six.

        I was not an officer. When I got out of the service, I was an E-4, a corporal.

        And I was one of those HS graduates who went straight into the military. When I left HS, I had no intention to go to college. For reasons other than learning and teaching, I hated school and did not want to go to college, but three years later after serving in the Marines and fighting in Vietnam, I had changed my mind. If I had gone to college out of HS, I would have failed most if not all of my classes and dropped out never to graduate and probably for the rest of my life, I would have worked in the fast food industry and/or retail earning poverty wages.

        Without the discipline the Marines instilled in me, I would never have been ready to tackle college and graduate. In addition, I was in my first marriage throughout college. My 1st wife andI were married three months before my discharge from the Marines. It was a Tsunami of a month long romance. From that marriage, I learned the hard way never to propose when you are drunk.

        As dysfunctional as that marriage was, being married kept me anchored and out of the single scene. If I had not been married, I don’t think I would have made it through college either, because I would have been out chasing skirts and drinking too much booze instead of studying.

        We now understand why most young men are like that. Brain scans have revealed that between the ages of 15 – 25, our brains are wired to make stupid decisions based on raw emotion and at that age, for males, raw emotion is almost all linked to our libido.

  11. Unlike TFA recruits, who are clearly under trained and not supported, back in 1975, I ended up going through a paid urban residency program for one full school year in a master teacher’s 5th grade classroom in a school with a child poverty rate that was higher than 80%—this school was on the fringe of gangland. In my second year of teaching, the elementary school where I landed my first full-time teaching job was in the same district and the poverty rate there must have been closer to 100%. That school was in the middle of gang land and it had razor wire on the roofs to keep the gang bangers off because if they got up there they’d use axes to chop their way into the school where they could steal whatever they could get their hands on and sell—the razor wire was there because the gangs had already done that once.

    One day, I arrived at school and had to park on the street becasue the gangs shot out all the lights that hovered over the teachers’ fenced in parking lot and the pavement was littered with broken glass. On another day, I arrived to discover a dozen locksmith hard at work fixing every door in the school because the gangs had filled all the locks with super glue. Another day, all the doorknobs were gone because the gangs used bats to break them all off. And again, on another day, we arrived to discover custodians had arrived from all over the school district and were hard at work filing in bullet holes in every classroom door and repainting before the children arrived.

    I wonder what a TFA recruit would have thought if they ended up teaching at a school like that. That area in La Puente in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California was do dangerous even the police didn’t patrol those streets at night—at least back then they didn’t.

    After that year, I taught for 29 more working 60 – 100 hours a week getting up at 5 AM to make sure I arrived at least an hour or more before my students and then back at home stumbling off to sleep about 18 hours later when my vision blurred and I couldn’t keep correcting student work that I wanted to hand back ASAP because feedback is vital for students to learn—that is the children who did the work.

    The homework turn-in rate in my classrooms was often about 5% at the beginning of the school year. With a lot of effort and encouragement, that rate might reach 30% by the end of the school year. Completing work done in class was about 50% and might reach 70% by the end of the year. To achieve that meant making a lot of phone calls before school, at lunch, after school, and from home even on the weekends. If I reached even half of the parents, that was a good day. Most of the phone numbers were disconnected or no one answered or returned my calls.

    My wife said that it sometimes sounded like I was begging the parents to help me get the kids to read and do the work and that was more than 25 years later.

    Teachers teach but they have to manage their classrooms so kids can learn. If a teacher doesn’t have the skill set to manage a challenging and difficult learnign environment for children to learn in, then the odds are that learnign doesn’t happen for most of those children..

    The children to the learning and they don’t learn much if they don’t cooperate, read regularly and do the work.

    Hitler had German children wearing brown shirts spying on their own parents. Mao had the Little Red Guard doing the same thing. How is that different from the Waltons, the Bill Gates cabal and hedge fund oligarchs who are supporting TFA so that organization can keep churning out fooled TFA recruits?

    • virginiasgp says:

      Lloyd a very vivid story and likely a reason many TFA teachers enter teaching. It is a huge challenge in these neighborhoods without a doubt. But consider the following:

      1. Young, recent graduates with “street cred” just might have more success in getting those kids to listen and pay attention, particularly if they look like and understand the kids in that neighborhood. That’s one reason TFA tries to get diverse teachers.

      2. When you look at teacher success via VAMs, nobody disputes that getting kids to try is most of the battle. However, if a student goes from not trying to trying (and yet still performing very poorly), the teacher’s VAM will be sky high. Your evaluation is a reflection both of how well you taught students who were trying and how well you engaged students who previously did not try.

      3. Much of what VAMs measure is not the actual teaching. It is related to classroom management and the ability to connect with students. Those were your exact points in the post. Why not acknowledge that we want teachers who can connect and that VAMs provide a means to measure that?

  12. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Discover the real world truth of Teach for America.

  13. Jack Covey says:

    To Jonathan Flores,

    Thank you for your service in Afghanistan. Just as you were a hero in that arena, you will be equally victorious in what lies ahead of you in this next one.


  14. gheverly says:

    Gary Just in case you hadn’t heard about this (from Paul Thomas’ blog): For several months now, I have been in contact with Sarah Matsui during the publication process of her in-press book on Teach For America, focusing on how TFA impacts corp candidates. As the publication date of Matsui’s book approaches, our conversation has turned to the education reform debate—notably how divisive and thus distracting that debate tends to be in terms of the larger goals of universal public education, social justice, and race, class, and gender equity.

  15. Pingback: What TFA Tells The New Recruits About ‘The System’ | Gary Rubinstein's Blog

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