Teacher Educator Mitchell Robinson Reports on his meeting with TFA Recruiters:
One of my students was contacted by a TFA recruiting representative, and asked if she was interested in getting involved with the organization. She sent me the note, and I replied that TFA was not welcome in my teacher preparation classes (a la Mark Naison!). I received a reply asking for a meeting, to discuss my “problems with TFA.”
Well, the 2 TFA recruiters just left, and the discussion went just about as well as I thought it would. They wondered how they could work more effectively with traditional teacher ed programs, and I asked them how they justified sending out recruits with 5 weeks of “training” into some of the more challenging classrooms in our state.
There appears to be a massive disconnect–either real or constructed–between the national organization and the workers on the ground when it comes to the group’s goals. When I suggested that TFA was contributing to the displacement of veteran teachers in Chicago, Detroit and other urban centers, there was a look of shock and disbelief on their faces They claimed that was not their goal.
When I asked the one young woman (both recruiters had taught for 3 years, then moved into leadership/management roles with TFA) what TFA’s goal was, she said it was to improve education in urban schools. I asked her what were the factors contributing to the “problems” in those schools, and what was TFA doing about those problems–there was nothing but silence.
I suggested that the (manufactured) teacher “shortage” in some urban schools just might be the result of poor teacher working conditions and a destabilizing of teaching as a profession, causing more teachers to leave the classroom–and that TFA played a major role in creating these problems. She denied this was the case, but acknowledged that the “perception is there” that this is the case–to which I replied, “Its not a perception. That’s your business plan, and if you aren’t doing anything to actively combat that “perception,” then you are part of the problem. When traditionally prepared teachers leave the profession, its a bug–when TFA recruits leave, its a feature.” She disagreed, and I asked her what the average length of service was in Detroit for TfA recruits–she “wasn’t sure.”
We finished our discussion with a last question: “What would you say to my student teachers–who decided they wanted to be teachers while they were in middle school or younger, elected a major in education, and then spent 4 or 5 years preparing to enter the profession–if they asked you why someone with no degree in education and 5 weeks of summer training should be competing with them for the same job?”
Her response was that some people decide to become teachers at different times, and that should not preclude their entry to the profession. I agreed with her and suggested that these persons then enter a post-BA program in teaching–which takes 2 years of coursework and includes a full student teaching placement at my institution–and that the students in high-need schools deserve nothing less.
The look of horror on the other woman’s face was priceless. (She had majored in journalism and Italian, and then taught English and Social Studies for 3 years.) I asked her what was wrong and she said, “I just wanted to get in to the classroom in the worst way.”
“You did,” I replied.