Sunday, March 22, 2015

Imagining Teach for America

I write a lot about what I oppose, so as a sort of thought experiment, today I'll try to imagine if there are ways to accomplish reformster goals that I could live happily with. The posts in the series include Imagining Charters, Imagining Teach for America, Imagining National Standards, Imagining Vouchers and Choice, Imagining Teacher Evaluation, and Imagining National Assessments.

Admit it. When you first heard about TFA, you thought it was kind of a cool idea. Then it turned out to be not quite so cool in practice. And then, once reformsters smelled a great opportunity for busting up the teaching profession, TFA overdosed on corporate cash and completely lost sight of any useful mission it might have ever had.

But could a Teach for America program exist in some sort of useful form? What would it take?

Clearly, something would have to be done about the less-than-a-joke training. I'd suggest a summer's worth of teacher boot camp directed, designed, controlled, and taught by actual teachers. It will not be perfect, but if you asked real teachers, "What would you teach someone in just twelve weeks to get them ready for classroom work," you'd get an answer and it wouldn't be "five weeks of baloney."

Next, we'd restrict the program to places that actually need more teachers. If we can't find any such place, we thank our recruits for playing and send them on their way. Pro tip: if you're a major urban district that just fired several hundred teachers just because you could, you are not experiencing a teacher shortage. Granted, computing a shortage is a challenge-- in many areas (like, say, my own) there's a race going on between the plummeting enrollment in teacher programs and the plummeting number of actual teacher jobs  in districts. But bottom line-- this program will be used only in districts that cannot fill their spots.

Our teacher corps members will all work under the supervision of an actual certified and working teacher-- lesson plans, assignments, grading and correcting paper will all be checked and subject to approval of the master teacher. The teacher will be paid for doing the job of backstopping the newbie, and that backstopping will continue as long as the corps member works in a classroom. If this leaves them chomping at the bit and wishing for a classroom that they could run all by themselves then good for them-- their next step is to go back to college and get a teaching degree.

Incidentally-- because the district will be paying the master teacher a good chunk of money to basically team teach with the corps member on top of her regular duties, the total cost of hiring a corps member will actually be greater than hiring a certified teacher to fill the spot. The district will be financially motivated to fill the job with a certified teacher.

Corps members will also be forever barred from using the phrase "I was a teacher" in any biographical materials ever.

That's a TFA corps I could live with.

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