When I first started this blog 11 years ago, the purpose was to give tips for new teachers. Back then, this was on the teachforus.org site, no longer active, where I would interact with new TFA corps members and offer advice to them.
You’d think that after 29 years, TFA training would have improved. But since they are supposed to be so data-driven, they should look at the most telling statistic about their quality of training. The quit rate for TFA has not changed from 29 years ago until this day, approximately 15% don’t complete their two-year commitment, or roughly 1 out of 7 corps members.
I was once a staff member at the TFA institute and I had a lot of conflicts with Michelle Rhee who was second in charge of it at that time. I also worked for the New York City Teaching Fellows which was a TFA spin-off and trained about 6 cohorts of math teachers. I wrote two books about teaching, the first one ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ is still in print. The lesser known one ‘Beyond Survival’ went out of print, though I obtained the rights to it and am considering making a kindle version of that one.
I noticed this tweet from an institute staffer today:
We rarely get to see or hear from actual TFA corps members. I don’t know if they now have to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement but I find it strange that this group of ‘leaders’ produces not one person live-blogging or live-tweeting their experience. When pictures of corps members in action are posted, I like to glance at them and see what I can infer from them. Sometimes I’ll notice that they are student teaching a class where there are only 5 students in the class and I’ll write about how unacceptable it is that TFA has not figured out a way to pack the student teacher classes with actual students.
In this tweet I noticed something I found revealing in this picture:
One thing to notice is the 7th grade math board work with 7+2=9. Not sure what the context is for that, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
No, the thing that I found relevant is the list of classroom rules
These remind me so much of the doomed-for-failure rules that they advised me to use my first year 28 years ago. These are the sorts of rules that tell kids “I’m such a new teacher, I have no idea what I’m doing.” I’m not going to do a deep-dive into these, I don’t want to make the teachers who made these feel bad — it is the TFA staff trainer’s fault really. Rules like this cause more misbehavior than they prevent. It baffles me that TFA still thinks that rules like this are effective for new teachers.
What some people who read this blog might not know about me is that before I became the ed reform fact-checker, I spent about 13 years from 1992 to 2005 doing a workshop at the summer institute. For most of those years, TFA didn’t really want me there, and didn’t invite me, but when I invited myself they weren’t turning me down back then. This workshop, which eventually became the book ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ still stands as great advice about the psychology of what techniques are needed to have classroom management as a 22 year old teacher. At the 37:46 mark I talk about how in my first year, my first rule was “Respect” and how that was too abstract of a rule and made students think I was a fake teacher — the first of many mistakes that eventually took down my first year.
I hadn’t looked at that video in a while, it is hard to believe that this was 16 years ago and that I had already been doing versions of that workshop for 11 years at that time. I don’t know how I didn’t pass out at the end of the workshop, it took so much out of me. It reminds me of the Daffy Duck cartoon where he can never get the audience to cheer for him they way they do for Bugs Bunny until at the end he dons a Devil’s costume and swallows nitro glycerin followed by a lighted match and finally gets a standing ovation.
Anyway, the advice from this video — as old school as it might seem — has helped a lot of teachers, particularly ones that had almost no training, make it through their first year.
If any TFA corps members are reading this, here’s a link to something I wrote in 2012 for Educational Leadership magazine called ‘The Don’ts And Don’ts Of Teaching.” It’s basically the two pages that I wish someone had handed me during my own TFA training.