Teach for America corps is a great addition to any young person’s resume, and it’s an honorable program to join just after college. It’s a path that appeals to the heartstrings of young college graduates, too, as they believe they are helping to close the education gap for low-income communities. Particularly for humanities majors, joining TFA can provide them with a valid long-term job post-graduation, the ever-elusive “experience” all jobs seem to require, and a clear direction after graduation.
Some who join TFA are education majors, but many are not. Therein lies the problem. Those who are accepted into the program are given approximately 6 weeks of training, spend some hours co-teaching summer school, and then POW! they’ve got a classroom of their own. Young, inexperienced, and hardly trained, they are suddenly responsible for an entire classroom full of students (or multiple classrooms, if they’re a secondary teacher).
Oh, and just to make it a bit harder, these aren’t normal classrooms. These are the classrooms of students living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. And likely the newbie teacher comes from an exact opposite situation—a privileged upbringing with an emphasis on education. The students they’re now expected to teach are likely far behind grade-level standards, are more worried about their next meal than their next test, and probably won’t “listen up” when the teacher asks nicely. Teaching in economically disadvantaged schools is probably one of the hardest careers, and instead of trying to narrow the education gap using experienced, innovative, well-trained professionals, we’re tossing in amateurs.
The mission of TFA is honorable, but can we really expect true education reform and improvement to happen when we’re not putting our best people on the job? Not to mention that most TFA-ers move away from teaching and on to other things after their few years are up. Despite the fact that our education system needs vast improvements, this process only adds to the movement toward the de-professionalization of teaching.
Another problem is that more and more TFA recruits are being placed in charter schools, where they are denied much of the mentorship a large public school community can offer. The increase in the number of charter schools and continued closing of public schools is further privatizing education and fails to address many of the challenges that disadvantaged students face. It’s this process that people like Diane Ravitch have spoken out against.
Imagine if, instead of placing inexperienced pawns in these positions, TFA instead recruited experienced professionals. It’d probably do a whole lot more good than what’s going on now.