Tag Archives: TFA

David Letterman – Top Ten Reasons I’ve Decided to Become a Teacher

I’m knee deep in LearnZillion work as I came back from my long break.

The Gilder Lehrman conference at USC was great–wonderful professors, cool colleagues, and a special shout out to the folks at Tiki Ti’s for making things just a little bit better on Wednesday night.

My stopover in Colorado was even better.  So much fun to be with my western kin.  It was a blast, and the mile-high altitude didn’t faze me one bit.

I saw this video of David Letterman’s Top Ten List on my Facebook feed and wanted to share it for two reasons:

A. the satirical reasons Letterman comes up with may be fresh and new to his juvenile audience, but we teachers have heard enough of it.

B. Isn’t it a tad insulting when TFAers, especially those who HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED THEIR TERM YET, are brought out for this little stunt?  If Letterman really wanted to thank teachers he would’ve included some veterans who know there way around the classroom.

Personally, I want to see those ten kids in two years…all glassy eyed, strung out and ready for their Morgan Stanley/McKinsey/CitiGroup/PWC/etc. job they really wanted in the first place.

Comments are always welcome.

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Wendy Kopp, why is TFA abducting so many Hoyas?

This weekend is Mr. D’s 10-year college reunion.  It’s been a while since I visited old Georgetown University, and it’ll be good to catch up with my old gang.  We’re all older, fatter, balder, on more medication–but probably not wiser.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Reading a recent article in Education Week, it appears that the old alma mater is getting recognized in another category: recruiting for Teach for America. 

For my casual readers in the Neighborhood, let me just say that TFA and I have an understanding.  Ever since my last rant at the institution, it may be best that we stay out of each others way.  You wouldn’t want to see me at Wendy Kopp’s cocktail party, that’s for sure.  The johnny-come-latelys of the TFA crowd, who cry that I’m a tool of the unions and unsympathetic to the plight of children, can cram it, for all I care.

I don’t like holding a grudge, though.  First of all, TFA is too easy a punching bag.  Many of the blogs linked on my page and on others do a far better job of deflating the Kopp Reich than I.  Second, it does my readers little good to hear me complain about an institution with which I have little, if any, connection.  So I’m offering an olive branch to Wendy Kopp.  Let’s play nice, shall we?  We can have a drink, a few laughs…we can both torture kids with standardized tests.

I just have one condition.  Please stop taking so many students from Georgetown.

The sidebar of the Education Week article, which covers the record number of applications from college seniors for TFA, also gave some stats on the class of 2009.  4,100 young people will be invading classrooms next year–which is little assurance to me, as my school may lose a couple of positions.  Georgetown University’s class of 2009 had 11 percent of the seniors apply for TFA.  It is considered the largest employers of graduates on campus, joining the likes of Brown, Emory, the University of Chicago and the University of Connecticut.

Now I’m not against my fellow Hoyas pursuing a career in education.  I worry because I know my own classmates.  Whereas most are pretty decent people, I don’t see a lot of them with the stamina for a classroom in a high-needs area.  Sorry, Chip, but teaching Algebra I at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx is not like tutoring your 4th Form chums at Groton.  Also, a lot of my class was downright insufferable–the teachers’ pet type.  My kids would have a field day with these prizes.  It would be great to see that smarmy prick from my US Political Systems class get the heave-ho out a classroom window.

It must be a dismal economy that so many of my fellow Hoyas are opting for the TFA experience.  This, also, is a problem.  The economy is driving lots of people to service, but for the wrong reasons.  The teacher you want to keep is not the accounting major who’s waiting to ride out the unemployment numbers before landing the next seat at Goldman Sachs.  It’s the student who has the choice of any corporate cush-job in America, yet CHOOSES to join the noble profession of teaching. 

So Wendy, I have to ask: What’s with so many Hoyas?  Is the economy really that bad?  Or did Duke and Harvard send you to steal away talent so that their schools can get the plush jobs?  Is this payback for us taking John Thompson III away from Princeton?  Were you a Villanova fan in a past life?

I don’t know if we can ever have the answer.  Maybe it’s too complex for my union-addled mind.  What I do know is that the high rate of Hoya participation makes us look bad.  It makes us look like do-gooders and missionary-pariahs.  Its bad enough Georgetown alums are in positions at every level of government and business–positions that allow us to fuck things up in spectacular ways.  Now they’re marshalled into classrooms to teach children badly until the economy improves.  If societal destruction is your aim, we can do more damage in other sectors of society, like the White House.   

If you let in any more Hoyas, Wendy, make sure they really want to make a difference.  Otherwise, these kids will be wasting my kids’ valuable time–time they should be spending on their projects on the civil rights movement.

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The Smart Kid’s Burden: The “Raj” of Teach for America

“Take up the White Man’s burden—
    Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
    To serve your captives’ need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
    On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
    Half devil and half child.” – “White Man’s Burden”, 1st Stanza, Rudyard Kipling

Inner city children of America, “half-devil and half-child,” fear no more.  Dr. Livingston is here and he’s got a protractor.

The good folks at Teach for America are here to give you the education only privileged children can obtain.  Why, in only two years, your little urchin can rise to drink gin fizzes at the Porcellian Club at Harvard, hobnob at the eating clubs of Princeton, or stand around Yale looking morose.  All he/she needs to do is sit up straight, throw his/her cultural identity out the window and do exactly what these fresh-faced go-getters tell you to do.

Why does it work?  Because even though they have no certification, no teaching degree and a grand total of five weeks of training, they are better than your teacher.  They are better than your principal.  They are better than you–because their bachelor’s degree has more Latin scribble on it than other people.   

Utter nonsense.

I have had a huge stick in my craw about TFA for quite a while.  When I was undergoing summer training as a New York City Teaching Fellow, I’d run into these guys every once in a while.  They were all glassy-eyed and full of chants and whistles and sunbeams–as if Cat Stevens taught freshman English.  Many of them looked down on us because we were pursuing teaching seriously, as a profession, while they were enjoying their two-year safari among the natives teaching them stuff without making sure the kids are actually learning something. 

I often ran into these folks later in the year, at seminars and such.  They all have that look like Michael Caine at the end of Zulu.  One more massive attack by the Zulus and they’d be sprawling on the floor with spears in their bellies.  The look of horror in their eyes–I felt bad for them, but also kind of pleased.  Those preppie punks had it coming.

The Boston teacher’s union agrees.  Today’s Boston Globe has a story about a letter sent to TFA from the union in Boston, urging them to not send recruits into their school system, citing that their personnel unfairly take positions away from tenured faculty who have been excessed due to the financial situation.  Boston schools will have anywhere from 100-200 openings due to retirement and resignation, yet there is still the threat of layoffs because of the numbers of “surplus” faculty available.  According to the union, TFA would only make matters worse.

Many critics of the union say that this is simply a tactic to keep unqualified, failing teachers on the payroll and maintain union membership.  They also cite studies showing gains in performance in schools that hire TFA personnel.  The program got a huge boost from President Obama’s call for public service, as applications to the program rose 42%  this year.

Let me be clear: I am not in the business of defending the union blindly.  If the teachers proved to be substandard, or “failing”, then they probably should go, provided all avenues have been exhausted.  Even among veteran faculty, there are those who have survived in the system by doing just enough to not get hassled.  Obviously, these people do the profession no service.

However, if enhanced teacher quality and teacher retention are the goal, then Teach for America is the wrong way to go.  President Obama, I admire your zeal for improving education, but TFA is an antiquated “colonialist” relic.  It is simply a stopgap measure to fill vacancies where more qualified people do not want to go.  It is not designed to produce highly skilled or effective teachers, but rather intellectual missionaries sent to preach to the unwashed masses and hand out Norton’s Anthology of English Literature before going to an investment banking  job readying the next recession.

Teach For America is inherently flawed for a number of reasons.  Let’s begin with recruitment.  While the program attracts the best and brightest college seniors, it does not necessarily choose people who will be good teachers.  Education is not solely about knowing the material in a textbook–otherwise, we would just have students in massive rooms with headphones listening to James Earl Jones reading a trigonometry book (wouldn’t his voice lend weight to Pythagora’s theorem?).  Teachers wear many hats: lecturer, facilitator, disciplinarian, actor, storyteller, etc.  A good teacher understands his/her class and adapts to meet the needs of the students.  Not every brainiac or J. Crew-wearing co-ed can do this.

The two-year commitment is a joke.  I have been teaching for five years, and am considered a “master” teacher, according to the education establishment.  Yet I’m still clueless about lots of aspects of this vocation.  Ask me to schedule a field trip…I’ll guarantee something will go wrong.  And this after FIVE years of study and on-the-job experience.  These TFA guys are out the door before they even begin to realize what they entered in the first place.

Another fault lies in training.  TFA recruits go through an “intensive” program for five weeks in the summer.  This will prepare them for decorating their room, writing in their plan book, taking attendance and getting kids to and from lunch.  It does not prepare them for teaching.  Teaching is a craft that takes years of study and apprenticeship to master: you cannot take a crash course for this.  Not only will it make the TFA-er look like a fool, but it hurts the students by depriving them of quality teaching.

Many deride the program as “Teach for a While” for good reason.  There is no incentive to retain teachers in TFA after their commitment is done.  I’m lucky in that I entered a program where the city payed for my Masters Degree–a huge incentive to stay in education, plus a requirement of a certified teacher.  Furthermore, I’ve met people in different aspects of education that have helped foster lasting connections to improve instruction and programs for children.  The TFA’ers have no such thing to keep them here, hence their reputation as hired mercenaries who enter corporate America after their stint.  If the President was serious about education, he should be invested in programs that not only train teachers efficiently, but also provide benefits to stay in the profession.

Yet, the last is probably the worst flaw of all–and President Obama should be ashamed to back TFA because of it.  Harkening back to Kipling and the rest of the pith-helmet crowd, TFA is often a divisive influence in education because of its very culture.   For many years, Teach for America has instilled in recruits the sense that they are better than the teachers in their schools, who often have years of experience, simply because of their educational background.   If George W. Bush is any indicator, an Ivy League education can be obtained by both brainiacs and boneheads–depending on the trust fund.

This attitude trickles down to the students, as TFA recruits lord their knowledge over underprivileged students who couldn’t care less.  Why won’t Jose read the material?  Why can’t Johnny solve a simple algebra problem?  The answer is simple: TFA’s chauvinist mentality places an extreme disconnect between teacher and student.  These run-and-gun intellectual missionaries never bother to get to know the areas or the students they encounter every day.  Why should they?  They’ll be making six figures at Swindle & Embezzle, LLC or some other bloated bank soon, so why bother making sure these “savages” learn?

I’ve learned one immutable fact in my years in the classroom: You learn just as much from your students as they learn from you.  If you just listen to your kids, look at what they do and see what they see, they will tell you what they need to know.  Not only that, listening to students will tell you HOW to teach them–and not to lord over their ignorance. 

Lastly, this is like being a priest or a cop.  Teaching is a vocation–if you’re in it, you better be in it for the long haul.  If not, you’re of no use to anyone. If TFA’ers cannot make the commitment, they are no help. 

Maybe they should actually do something more constructive, like killing lions in Kenya wearing a monocle.


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