We’ve discussed it here before: the head of teacher evaluation in the state of LA is a 27-year-old former TFA alum. Now, Diane Ravitch adds that the head of teacher recruitment in Dallas, TX is a 29-year-old TFA alum who completed their obligatory two-year commitment.
It should not surprise anyone that TFA alum, given their poor retention rates, are actually being groomed for leadership positions rather than as career teachers. Classroom teaching for many of them is about establishing minimal “street” credibility. “Yes, I WAS an actual teacher, I KNOW what it is like.”
I am of the ilk that more experience makes one a better teacher, like most professions. It takes at least three years to figure it all out. When one goes through so-called “traditional” preparation, there’s an intentionality that goes with it. A career in the elementary classroom was not ultimately in the cards for me. However, when I did go into it, I did not go half-assed. I’ve got tubs and tubs of books and other materials locked away in my parents’ garage to prove that.
Collecting stuff does not mean all that much, per se. But I think it is a less formal indicator that I wanted to do my absolute best and was willing to reform my entire identity as an educator to accommodate that. Everything I purchased was some way involved with my classroom. What I read personally had something to do with what I was teaching, such as a non-fiction text on the American Revolution or a new way to teach reading. My entire life was connected and it greatly benefited my craft, although there’s no real way to prove that.
I’m inclined to believe that it does not necessarily work out this way with TFA folks. I mean, if you’re so passionate about the classroom, why not continue to work with children? Are you so ready to leave the classroom to take an office job? And how are these folks actually getting hired for these leadership positions? I find it very hard to believe that, for one, that this is anything other than patronage, and two, how anyone could take these folks seriously.
Honestly, I myself have applied in the past for these positions, central office positions, teacher evaluation positions, and I have failed miserably. I have been in the education professions for roughly 13 years, taught in numerous circumstances, and read thousands and thousands of pages on all kinds of topics in education. I’ve spoken on numerous occasions and in my nascent academic career am a published author. What gives? I mean, hell, I teach in a charter school over the summer shoulder to shoulder with TFA alum. As a matter of fact, I’m one of THE only stable employees in that school. I’ve never worked with the same teacher twice in three years.
You can’t defend the indefensible. You can’t honestly say to me that these folks in their twenties are qualified to do this kind of work. I have been supervising and evaluating teachers for at least seven years now. If you are a central office bureaucrat, there is no serious argument you can make in defense of these individuals with so little experience in these positions. And, you can’t make a serious case that a two-year required commitment counts. That individual not only lacks serious preparation, but they are in it for survival to gain street cred, which thereby diminishes their internalization of a teacher identity.
I know that last line might not make much sense to the bean counters and number crunchers. But I think there’s a Vietnam Vet mentality to TFA. Sure, they were humping the boonies for only two years, but they were actually in the shit, you dig? “I was there man while you were in a cushy suburban school for ten years, I was actually there.” It’s a fantastic marketing tactic for their alumni, you have to give credit where it’s due, but it’s a terrible model for long-term stability in teaching.