Teach for America should stop sending neophytes into tough inner-city schools, argues Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge Blog. Instead, let recruits learn to teach in high-performing schools “as pinch-hitters for some of our best, most experienced teachers.” Send the master teachers to the tough schools for two-year stints with bonus pay.
Our toughest schools are no place for rookies, even well-educated, data-driven rookies. Being a first year teacher in a tough school makes for great memoirs, but all the good intentions and Ivy League degrees under the sun donâ€™t make you a great teacher. Weâ€™re certainly not going to turn around thousands of underperforming schools on the backs of 22-year olds.
. . . Our kids who are furthest behind would get what they really need-the best teachers, not just the best-intentioned teachers.
Some TFA teachers would leave after two years; others would be prepared to handle tougher teaching assignments.
TFA chief Wendy Kopp responds:
It is a rare person who has what it takes to excel as a teacher in a low-income community, and itâ€™s not at all a given that teachers who do well in more privileged communities will do well in urban and rural areas. . . The individuals who come to Teach For America are coming because they want to work with the nationâ€™s most disadvantaged children (and it is unlikely that most of them would decide to channel their energy toward teaching in more privileged contexts), and in fact their motivation to level the playing field for them is one reason for their success.
I’d prefer to see first-year teachers work as assistants for master teachers before getting their own classroom. Maybe having an assistant teacher to share the workload would serve as a lure to get experienced teachers to commit to high-need schools. Asking TFA recruits to commit to three years of teaching would screen out those most likely to leave the profession.
But teachers who might choose a difficult teaching job won’t choose an impossible job. If the high-need school is chaotic and dangerous or if it’s all fads and no substance, people with choices won’t choose to be there.
Update: New teachers say they’re unprepared for the diversity they encounter in their classrooms, reports Public Agenda.
Update II: On a New York state English exam, students were told to listen to a speech by Wendy Kopp, who founded TFA, and write about why young leaders don’t need experience. Disagreeing with the thesis was not an option. Skoolboy provides an example of an essay that got the top score.