Welcome to class

The Real Life of Teachers, a Teach for America web series, follows first-year teacher Pocco Bussey, a military veteran who’s teaching kindergarten, second-year social studies teacher David Brackett, and alumna teacher Jenn Jeffers, who teaches Spanish in New Orleans.

Teach for America students become teachers

Sobella Quezada, a 2015 Teach for America corps member, reads to a student in her Head Start class at P.S. 152 in Manhattan. 

Fourteen years ago, Sobella Quezada’s eighth-grade English teacher, Nick Marinacci, a Teach for America corps member, introduced her to Shakespeare, persuaded her to make college plans and urged her to apply to a good Catholic high school.

An English major in college, Quezada is a “second-generation” TFA member. She teaches Head Start students at a Manhattan community school run by the Children’s Aid Society. Her class is made up of “15 economically disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds, many with special needs.”

“I feel like I’m living my purpose,” she told The 74.

Twenty-five years after TFA was founded, about 140 of this year’s 4,100 new recruits say they were once taught by TFA teachers themselves. In New York City, where the non-profit is looking for more ethnically diverse teachers, almost 1 in 10 new recruits this year are second generation.

Jessica Pena is a "second-generation" Teach for America teacher.

Jessica Pena is a “second-generation” Teach for America teacher.

A Bronx native, Jessica Pena, 23, knew she wanted to teach. She contacted her former TFA teacher-turned-mentor, seventh-grade science teacher, Anu Malipatil, to ask about applying to TFA.

Pena now teaches social studies at the Bronx Claremont International School.

There’s a lot of resistance to TFA on the Colby campus, writes Dylan Alles, who’ll graduate in 2016. She wishes Teach for America didn’t exist and that’s why she’s joining.

“In a perfect world,” there’d “be no need to rally new teachers to the most at-risk classrooms,” Alles writes. “A system would be in place to incentivize the best proven educators to serve and be supported in those spaces.”

In an imperfect world, Alles will begin teaching in Washington, D.C. in fall 2016.

‘Quiet middle’ needs to help to reach goals

As a social studies teacher in Atlanta, Ian Cohen taught ninth-graders who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, or entrepreneurs, chefs, and engineers. But the school’s graduation rate was only 42 percent — even lower for black males.

"Next Generation" apprentices visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

“Next Generation Men” visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

Males in the “quiet middle” were doing the minimum needed to pass, Cohen writes. They didn’t realize what it would take to achieve their goals.

Cohen and two other Teach for America corps members have founded Next Generation Men) to provide “exposure to different careers and post-secondary options, guidance on how to achieve them, and consistent support.”

If my student wants to be an engineer, but doesn’t know how integral math and science are to that profession, what other reason would he have to be interested in trigonometry or calculus? And if he came from a family without a college graduate, how would he manage to learn about the application process, the importance of school selection, and what the actual experience entails or requires?

Tenth-grade “apprentices” meet with teachers twice a week and visit a different industry each month.

For example, students met the cameramen, audio engineers, writers and producers of one of their favorite TV shows, Inside the NBA, at Turner Studios, writes Cohen. “Now, they understand that there are over 20 careers involved in making that show possible, and that it takes a commitment to mastering a craft or skill set that will enable them to pursue one of those professions.”

Many young people are encouraged to say they want to go to college and say they want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. But they have no clue what they should be doing in school to make those goals a reality.

Teach your padwan well

Be a Force for Good in Your Classroom, says Teach for America.

TFA novices do as well as trained veterans

With only a few weeks of training, Teach for America teachers are as effective with elementary students as traditionally trained, far more experienced teachers at the same high-poverty schools, concludes a new Mathematica study.

In pre-K through second grade, TFA teachers’ students gained an extra 1.3 months of reading, the study found.

The TFA teachers averaged 1.7 years of experience compared to 13.6 years for the other teachers studied. TFA recruits most of its corp members from selective universities.

Mathematica Policy Research.

Earlier research “suggests that TFA teachers have been more effective than their non-TFA counterparts in math and about the same in reading,” Mathematica noted.

Eighty-seven percent of TFA teachers — and 26 percent of conventionally trained teachers — don’t plan to make teaching a lifetime career, the study found. (Bloomberg calls that a “plan to fee teaching.”) However, 43 percent of TFA teachers who said they’ll leave the classroom plan education careers.

Is Teach for America losing its luster?

First-year Teach For America corps member Deja Moss teaches social studies at a North Carolina middle school. (Travis Dove for The New York Times)

After 15 years of growing demand, applications to Teach for America are down 10 percent this year, reports the New York Times. Last year, the highly selective program accepted about 15 percent of its applicants. That selectivity will continue, even if it means a smaller teaching corps, says Matt Kramer, the nonprofit’s co-CEO.

The rebounding economy has created more job opportunities for graduates of elite colleges, says Kramer.

“Teaching in general has been losing favor,” notes the Times. “From 2010 to 2013, the number of student candidates enrolled in teacher training programs fell 12.5 percent, according to federal data.”

Deja Moss, a first-year teacher photographed for the Times story, tells her own story on TFA’s Pass the Chalk. Raised by a single mother in Georgia, Moss recalls her sixth-grade social studies teacher, a TFA corp member who became her mentor.

Andrea Merrick, who joined TFA in 2005, still teaches at the middle school, writes Moss. “Ms. Merrick shifted from teacher to mentor, cheering me on through high school graduation, four years at the College of Wooster, and the day I became the first in my family to earn a college degree in four years. This fall, as I took on my own class of sixth and seventh grade social studies scholars as a corps member in my own right, she’s been a source of comfort, guidance and tremendous strength.”

Teach for America is changing

Teach for America is listening to its critics — and changing, writes Dana Goldstein on Vox.

Two pilot programs rethink the “quick-prep, high-turnover model,” she writes.

One will provide a year of pre-service training to 50 to 100 college seniors who applied early-decision to TFA and were accepted during their junior years.

The second pilot “will encourage corps members in 12 regions — Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Connecticut, D.C., Dallas, Nashville, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, San Antonio, South Carolina, and St. Louis — to commit to teach for up to five years.”

Corps members will receive instructional coaching and stipends to pursue graduate studies in education.

“Teaching beyond two years cannot be a backup plan — it has to be the main plan,” co-CEO Matt Kramer said in a speech announcing the changes.

Robert Schwartz loved being a Teach for America teacher, Goldstein writes. After his two-year commitment, he taught for five more years at an East Los Angeles middle school. “TFA was a great thing for me,” Schwartz said.

But then he took a job as an administrator at an LA-based charter school network called the Inner City Education Foundation. . . . He realized he wasn’t interested in hiring brand-new Teach for America corps members. He wanted to hire experienced teachers who were familiar with his students’ neighborhoods — not fresh recruits to the profession, most from other cities, who’d been through just five weeks of training and could only be counted on to stay for two or three years.

“My argument was: let’s take the resources you’re investing in a corps member — tens of thousands of dollars per year — and put that into professional development for training current staff on campuses,” Schwartz said. “You’ll see teachers that are going to stick around longer and are really invested in the community.”

TFA has many more applicants than it can handle, writes Goldstein. It can afford to reject those who aren’t willing to commit to more than two years of teaching.

The corps also is enrolling many more blacks and Latinos.

Who’s diverse?

From Democrats for Education Reform:

student demographics.png


Note that charter and TFA teachers tender to be younger than traditional public school teachers.

Remembering James Foley

Teach for America is remembering corps member James Foley, Phoenix ’96. The freelance journalist, captured in Syria nearly two years ago, was murdered yesterday by Islamic State barbarians.

Elisa Villanueva Beard,co-CEO, recalls “his tenacity, his spirit, and his fierce dedication to give voice to the voiceless.”

Jim was an incredible teacher who was a model of love and excellence, and went on to be a journalist with the same passion, care, and integrity that he’d shown in the classroom.

“Here’s how I remember James Foley: hilarious, creative, laughing, learning,” writes Crystal Brakke. “Even as I sit here crying, I remember that James.”

The browning of Teach for America

Half of Teach for America‘s 5,300 new corps members are “people of color.” Nationwide, 50.2 percent of public school students — but only 20 percent of their teachers — are non-white.

Forty-seven percent of the new recruits received Pell Grants, a “reliable indicator of low-income background, writes Andre Perry. One-third are the first in their families to attend college.

Twenty-two percent identify as African American, 13 percent as Hispanic, 6 percent as Asian American or Pacific Islander, 1 percent identify as Native American, 10 percent as multiethnic/other and 48 percent as white.

Two-thirds joined straight from college. The rest have been working, in graduate school or serving in the military.

Jarrett McDonald, one of 100 veterans in the group, has experience setting goals, working under stress and taking on leadership roles. The Army is “built upon a shared mission of service,” he writes. So is teaching.

He wants to be what Teddy Roosevelt called “the man in the arena.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause…”

McDonald will be teaching in Jacksonville, Florida.