I think that the public conversation attacking TFA is, in essence, a distraction from the real mission that the organization is pursuing—which is creating an equitable educational playing field for all. It is not an attack on veteran teachers, but the creation of another pipeline of potential teachers into a profession that isn’t uniformly creating opportunity and results for all. This comes with an understanding that when we hire 5 teachers from a pool of 50 applicants, we will create a better team than when we pick the only five who showed up. Or worse yet, when we get only 4, and we have to settle for a rotation of subs for an entire year. Sadly, that is still a reality, even in districts like Denver Public Schools where achievement, enrollment, and graduation rates are rising and teachers are coming in from education programs, TFA, and other alternative routes, like Denver Teacher Residency.
I think the debate has gone askew because effective veteran teachers are running a smoke screen for less effective teachers. As a teacher, I’ve seen colleagues shine, and I’ve seen them fail. Veteran teachers must remember that good teaching and constant improvement IS and SHOULD BE a requirement for continuing as a teacher, and the fact that a colleague has become a friend does not guarantee they are doing what is best for kids. 25-45% of low-income students reaching proficiency are not the signs of success. Neither is the fact that most urban teachers wouldn’t trust their own kids to the schools they teach in.
Not everyone in Teach for America will stay. That is a sad fact. But many of them will, and in Denver, the list of Mile High Teachers, nominated by their schools as outstanding teachers in the district was filled with people I know as great TFA alums who have stayed in the classroom and are making a difference every day. Some will leave after two years, but many of those alums that leave take the fight to other sectors and higher levels of government and business. They bring the focus and the resources that are badly needed back into the profession they left.
Charter middle schools and high schools, as well as public schools in Denver run and staffed by TFA and other non-traditional alums are changing the opportunities available in our city. A KIPP or Denver School of Science and Technology school may not appeal to wealthy white parents already living in a well-staffed, well-resourced school, but it’s a welcome alternative to a school like Montbello High, where principal after principal has left or been fired because graduation rates remain low and violence is high.
If you must hate: hate the teachers who are not carrying their share of the burden, not simply someone carrying a particular label, TFA or otherwise.
This is not a war of between traditional and non-traditional educator preparation programs.
This is a war to replace the complacency and low expectations held for the children of low-income and minority families. We are and should be calling all teachers who will fight and carry the crusade to all corners of this country to replace the broken parts in this system, piece by piece.