“The preservation of a democratic civilization requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
I haven’t been blogging regularly recently because I am at the end of transitioning out of the Mississippi Delta back closer to home in Boston. Apparently, I’m one of those evil and elitist do-gooders who “only” did two years of teaching, which is the required commitment. More on that later…
What I will say is this: as evidenced by my previous posts on different ways TFA can or may improve in the future, I’m not particularly “brainwashed” as some folks like to claim. In fact, as a lifelong learner and educator, I truly enjoy engaging with the various critics of TFA’s organizational model. However, with each passing day, I find myself increasingly alarmed and irritated by the amount of biting vitriol and unsolicited advice thrown around.
“Last October, Kappan magazine reported on a survey in which 60.5% of the 2000-’02 cohorts of TFA teachers reported that they continued teaching after their two-year commitment. But after five years, only about 28% remained in teaching. More recently, a study of TFA teachers in Jacksonville, Fla., found that only about 22% continued teaching after their two-years.”
-this statistic is relevant, obviously, but it needs to be put in proper context, perhaps by citing that the percentage of new teachers who stay after 5 years is ~64%. Now, when you consider the retention rates at the low-performing schools in which TFA CM’s serve, the rate of comparison shows an even narrower gap (I believe it’s less than 50%). These two articles (here and there) do a better job at explaining why TFAers leave the classroom. It is true that TFAers often have a weaker commitment to both the profession and their communities, but that is partly by design of the program (and can be easily remedied if/when desired).
“Rather than bend to the student’s perception that teaching is not prestigious enough to do long term, TFA should instead use its vast resources to encourage students to see teaching as the end goal, and TFA as a viable means to that end.”
-truth. But TFA accomplishes this goal (or at least thinks it does) by inspiring / seeding organizations that already serve these purposes. There are teacher corps in many states. Why not look at their retention rates? Oh, right, because TFA is like Lebron James. However, TFA continuing to claim superiority over veteran teachers is akin to Lebron’s “The Decision” speech, which was entirely off-putting and arrogant.
Anyhow, I hesitated to post this perspective, so I’m not going to elaborate on this basketball analogy at the moment. However, I would like to share the wisdom of Dr. Camika Royal, who’s speech at the Philadelphia Institute has been causing quite a stir throughout the Teach For Us community (like most “controversies,” ignited by Gary Rubinstein); she recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the controversy. She seems pretty amazing and I love the balanced perspective she brings to the table. I agree that we must be “swift to hear” and “slow to speak.”
“Our schools are more than the lie of successful charters and failing district. Our educators are more than the false dichotomy of good versus bad, of us and them. By and large, educators here are not bad. Educators here are tired. Educators here are reform weary. Our students are more than test scores, graduation rates, and disciplinary issues. They are the babies that parents prayed for and over and read to and work for and dream about. They are people who want the best for themselves whether or not they know how to articulate it or how to seek it out. Our education is more than the failure rhetoric and the achievement gap misnomer. Our problems are systemic, and endemic, but THEY WILL BE SOLVED BY PEOPLE: resilient people, unrelenting people with an edge. This summer, you are the people we’ve enlisted to support our education efforts in this city. You are not here to replace educators or to reinvent educational opportunities. You are here to reinforce the work that is already happening. You are here to help us re-up our efforts to ensure that one day, every person in Philadelphia has the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
You have come to Teach FOR America, but in Philadelphia, that will only happen to the extent that you commit yourself to serving and learning. A teacher is a servant. And you are not here to save. You are here to serve.“
To Dr. Royal, I say: “Thank you. This is something I sorely needed to hear and I hope there are more like-minded alums out there.”
You can read the entire article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/camika-royal-phd/teach-for-america_b_1669121.html