Teach For America?

My first position in teaching was at an all male junior high school in Harlem. I taught the 8th grade class that had in it students the other 8th grade teachers did not wish in their room. I survived. After teaching all over America I wound up as a college professor who has taught about 12,000 teachers. A few years ago I worked at a college with a Teach For America group. Yes, they were bright, yes, many had success in the business world, but-were they qualified to teach in urban schools? Some had the ability to engage with urban children, but even those lacked experience and curriculum materials that would capture the imagination  and interest of children. One does not develop such materials during the course of a summer.

A recent conference sponsored by Free Minds Free People raised many issues concerning the much praised Teach for America operation. Many at the conference charged TFA placed inexperienced personnel in urban schools who spent a few years and then departed for other jobs. Unfortunately, all too often TFA staff lack trust in experienced teachers who have learned how to engage students in learning. Of course, most teachers lack these skills. The difference in middle class schools is that students are more prone to put up with boredom in order to get accepted to “the right school.”

TFA is simply another prong in the “teachers are to blame” for all problems in education. Of course,teachers are to blame-along with a host of other factors. At one point in  my career I worked in a suburban district which had the funds to pay  teams of teachers to devote their summer developing inquiry based education materials. We also worked with Projects that were funded by government and foundations to create new approaches to teaching and learning.