If you’re a Teach For America teacher, you probably have little background in education. You also, probably, have only a few weeks of summer teacher training. And then you’re probably taking that weak foundation and trying to use it to do the World’s Hardest Job. While research says you are just as good as your new-teacher peers, good teaching requires experience. Compared to your older colleagues, or even yourself in a few years, you probably suck at your job. (Especially in your first year…sorry.)
I actually intend none of that as a criticism of Teach For America. I think they provide as much training as reasonably possible, and there’s really no substitute for firsthand experience in a classroom. They are clearly filling a need, since schools wouldn’t hire us if they could find someone better. And really, after going through the standard new teacher challenges, TFA produces plenty of truly great teachers.
Yet if we struggle so hard in our first year(s), then why is the TFA core value of “respect and humility” so hard to come by? Why do we have schools complaining about new teachers who won’t do what’s asked of them? Why do we have so many new teachers who shut down in fury and self-righteousness every time an observer criticizes their teaching? Why do so many of us refuse to ask for help and ignore advice when offered? Why do we complain incessantly about trainings and do everything in our power to avoid them?
For all its problems, my school has some phenomenal people on staff, and 95% of the success I’ve had comes from asking incessantly for support and advice. Anyone who’s been stuck working with me can tell you that asking for help isn’t my problem. Yet I’m just as guilty as anyone of whining about trainings. Why do I do that? When I was struggling most is when I dreaded trainings the most, which can partially be attributed to overload but also comes from something else. There’s this pervasive feeling in TFA that trainings are a waste of our time and we have better things to do than sit there and hear someone tell us what to do. Cocky, much?
TFA puts us in a really tough situation, and they have to take care of us and get us out alive. They’re trying to protect our egos, which are already suffering every day as it is, and they’re trying to keep us from quitting (which is a much bigger problem than professional development avoidance). They’re doing their best, they’ve kept me afloat, and I love them for it. I’m just so tired of listening to new teachers avoid help and complain about feedback, and I’m equally tired of listening to experienced teachers bemoan corps members’ “too good for this” attitudes. TFA can keep doing what they’re doing, but someone should be hired to sit in our ears and remind us to appreciate every learning opportunity provided. We’d do better for it in the end… and our kids would, too.