Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 17 2010

Bitter much?

I hate to be the negative one here, but someone needs to tell the incoming TFA corps members that they are not going to singlehandedly eliminate the achievement gap this year. I’m so glad that they are enthusiastic and ready to try, because that’s going to be necessary to get them through the year. I’m so glad they’re setting these Big Goals and High Expectations, because those never hurt. I’m so glad they think they can, because they might not set foot into a classroom otherwise. But please, please stop saying it out loud.

“I can’t wait to get into my classroom and turn every one of my poor miserable children into the top scholars in the world. Because I’ve done my pre-institute work, I know that this can easily be accomplished by Setting Big Goals and Relentlessly Pursuing them every day.”

This is why so many established teachers hate Teach For America. It takes a lot of nerve to decide that you can just walk into a classroom and fix a major social issue faced by our entire nation. It’s even worse when you expect to do it singlehandedly, with little training or experience or support. If it were that easy, don’t you think someone would have done it already? There are plenty of phenomenal teachers in our school systems, and yet there is still an achievement gap. Please keep in mind that you are joining those people in the fight, not pushing them out of the way so you can do it yourself. That’s the only way that TFA can be successful, especially since new teachers really can’t function without existing teachers’ support. Seriously. This is starting to annoy me.

I would bet a million dollars that more first-year corps members get chairs thrown at them regularly than successfully close the entire achievement gap. There’s actually no doubt in my mind.

PS I’m glad you’re doing your pre-institute work, but stop overthinking it. No one’s ever going to read it.

12 Responses

  1. THANK YOU. Somebody had to say it.

    We’ll see what their attitudes are in October. You CAN’T do it alone.

  2. reaganpugh

    Amen. Thank you.

  3. TFA Parent

    So the year of experience is weighing heavy?

  4. Sorry if my post was part of what upset you.

    Sorry if anything I said made you think that I believe I’ll make any kind of dent in the achievement gap this year, or even maybe next year.

    Sorry if it sounds like I’m unappreciative of all the hard and good work that is being done around the country both by CMs and teachers from other backgrounds.

    Sorry that we, the 2010 CMs, have upset you. The new CMs that I’ve met, and I certainly haven’t met even 1%, are humbled by the challenge we face, anxious about our lack of preparedness, and anything but full of hubris about our potential to impact.

    Sorry that it’s boring to read posts about experiences you’ve already had; most of us are writing for our friends and families who are unfamiliar with the process, not for the the teachers that have been through it.

    Sorry to make you feel bitter.

  5. LQ

    I love reading your blog because you’re down to earth and say what you feel. I completely agree with what you’re saying in this blog. I’m not in TFA I’m in a dif program but from day one of being accepted I kept saying I wouldnt even want to do this if it werent for my past teachers inspiring me and I’m going to utilize them as much as I can during my first year to learn everything I can as opposed to believing I dont need them and can do better than them in the classroom.

  6. I agree – of course, any pre-institute TFAer will have high hopes for what they’ll do in the classroom. That’s just part of the mentality that TFA wants in the people it recruits. It’s hard not to sound cynical when you say this, but after a year in the classroom we all realize that whatever achievements we manage with our students in their small classroom are dwarfed by the monstrous problems that plague the education system.

  7. I think that blind idealism is such a driving force in change though.
    You get hurt, then you get angry, then you change things.

  8. TWteach

    As a staff member I know the pre-work is read and those who did their pre-work are actually more prepared to jump in the classroom this summer and begin to close the achievement gap than those who didn’t do their pre-work. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and I believe that with every step and every stride that every corps member is making, it does in fact make a huge difference. I know that I made a lot of long-term difference in many students’ lives my very first year, and so did most others in TFA. This is a step in the right direction and the positive, ambitious attitude that we CAN in fact close the achievement gap one day is what is going to get us there.

  9. LQ

    Thats a good point @ Michael

  10. MsT11

    I agree with your post. As a “traditional” teacher, I know the struggles facing educators today. I work with, am friends with, and related to numerous TFA members, and do not have a problem with the program in the slightest. However, I do know many people annoyed with the program and members due to comments made by some of the “newbies.” Being told a job (one went to college to pursue) is easy and pretty much anyone can do it, can really rub someone the wrong way. Teaching is very difficult! There is no magic formula that will work for every student and the only way to get better at the craft is to actually do it for an extended period of time.
    When new teachers (both “traditional” and TFA or similar organization) walk into their classrooms believing they know everything and will be a perfect teacher and don’t need any help from anyone, it can tend to make veteran teachers cringe. It’s not that we don’t have faith and aren’t excited to have fresh talent and fresh ideas, it’s just that it is slightly condescending. If it were so easy to be a phenomenal teacher, there wouldn’t be the achievement gap there is today.
    Now that I’ve rambled, I’ll get to my main point. I think that having faith in their abilities as a teacher is extremely important, however, the verbalization of this faith needs to be done carefully. Stating that you can be PART of the solution is wonderful (YOU CAN BE), but coming across as believing YOU WILL BE THE solution will only turn the veteran teachers off to you. (They may secretly be waiting until the first time you run into their room screaming “What am I going to do!?!?” because it will happen.) All I am saying, is that you may want to think a little about how you are presenting yourself. Education is a wonderful, stressful, rewarding, challenging career that takes time to perfect and a whole school to be successful. Remember, you are not in it alone, and you alone will not close or widen the achievement gap.

  11. nycfabbittails

    I am a new CM and I find those posts annoying, so I can’t even imagine how veteran teachers feel. I back the excitement but don’t think everyone really understands that they are going to fail. A lot. I mean, they are already failing at blogging.

  12. Ms. Math

    I’m torn on this issue. I had no idea how hard things would be. I expected my classroom to be like Stand and Deliver, the movie. It was only later that I realized that it took Jaime Escalante years to achieve the success the movie portrayed as his first year teaching.

    But I’m learning new CM’s in a community and I want them to feel like something is possible. But then I think back about what my class was like and I doubt that we could actually really affect major change our first year and feel guilty for letting them think that I did or that it will be remotely feasible. I mean I wouldn’t tell my 4 year old niece that she’ll win the boston marathon because she won’t, not this year, not next year. But at some point exceptional things are possible and people have shown it to be true. Some I’m torn still.

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