TFA Alum speaks out

A few months ago I read an impassioned piece written by a professor Mark Naison from Fordham University about why he did not allow TFA recruit in his graduate classroom. I shared it with a close friend who had recently completed her TFA fellowship to see what she thought of this. Unfortunately a bid to critically evaluate an organization’s mission and impact was internalized as an ad hominem attack. I have the deepest respect for her teaching and her commitment to stay in teaching unlike many of her colleagues. We straightened out our miscommunication but I was reminded about our discussion when I stumbled upon a video entry from a TFA Alum who came out with a dissenting opinion. His struggle reminded me of my own teaching fellowship in Newark, NJ where I often felt defeated and hopeless and was at a loss of how to help my students.

What do you think of his story? How representative is his view? What other alternative perspectives are out there that come directly from the source- the operating core of idealistic middle-class Ivy league educated millenials ? I would like to see survey data that shows the satisfaction of TFA alums of their Summer Training and their experience as a corps member from a neutral 3rd party.

I feel like he was speaking from the heart until the part about having insufficient access to books as a 7th and 9th grade English teacher. He  mentions that the school library had not grown in a few years and the student had read through the entire set. Upon submitting his 2 weeks notice, he had an exit interview.When asked why he did not reach out regarding obtaining more books he shifts the responsibility to the principal and (at 8:22) claims he does not remember if he asked the principal for more books. A bit absurd that you would not recall such an important factor. I think this weakens his argument as the burden of responsibility falls on him to request a resource necessary to lesson delivery and instruction. Also the part about now having a english curriculum was strange.



Insidious narratives

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The eternally contested purpose of education is something that most of us know well. Should education prepare the next wave of income earners into the labor market with a basic set of skills or is education meant to prepare all children for higher-level classical pursuits? Depth or breadth?

Since the formation of the Federal Department of Education all shades of the spectrum and schools of thought have enjoyed their proverbial 15-minutes of fame.

Despite varied perspectives at least we all agreed on the fundamental definition – that education was and always should be “public” in its essence and execution. Public, a “common good” in that the system of education was to serve the needs of the many instead of slavishly obliging plutocratic self-interest.

Was that part at least an indisputable given? I suppose not.

The beliefs contained in these two articles compose prevalent insidious narratives – the idea that  the move away from the ideal of a public education will close the opportunity gap and the belief that “we need better teachers”.

Exhibit 1 :

A recent Alternet article shows the economic priorities of our country- If you don’t invest well in the people who are responsible for shaping the minds of our next generation  with creative inquiry and intellectual thinking as a cornerstone of instructional methodology than the foundation begins to erode.
If we don’t respect teachers doing this important work than the message sent is we don’t value students’ education enough to invest in those providing it. High quality talent will opt for different careers that are better paying and come with a higher prestige- that is the bottom line.

Exhibit 2:

This article and Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools postulates the beginning of the end of public schools in Philadelphia, with 1/3 of of children now attending charter schools. Increased enrollment numbers coupled with the political cheerleading and economic bolstering of charter schools are harkening the continuing shift from public to private. Is Philadelphia and other die-hard charter school states a representative sample of where the nation is heading in the next couple of years?

This sentence in particular foreshadows the battle ahead and the practice of business as usual:

“The Agora Cyber Charter, which is run by the for-profit company K12, made $31.6 million last year from state taxpayers. It’s interesting to note that billionaire Michael Milken is an owner of K12 and that Mr. Milken was convicted of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989.”

Both are dangerous mainstream narratives that are targeting public schools and how the public views the quality of a public education.

As long as teachers are depicted as the villain, as long as the adage “those who can’t do, teach” pervades and the privatization movement is seen as offering a panacea from some kind of dystopia of public schools, then no student stands to benefit.