Teaching for America


The Providence Phoenix has a story this week, “Not Waiting for Superman” where author David Scharfenberg describes Teaching for America, an organization looking to improve education in public schools.  The premise is that anyone with a college degree, in any field, who is willing to work hard for two years in a public school system can come and teach.

This idea is something that I’ve thought about before.  What is the formal collegiate program for teaching actually like?  Is it more learning the subject material to teach, or is it teaching skills?  I’m sure there are teaching skills and classroom management taught, but it’s more about theory and also the subject material.

What this really comes down to is there are some people who can just simply teach.  Some people have that ability and some definitely don’t.  Unfortunately, some who don’t have that ability, are in the classrooms.

One comment that stuck out for me in the article was this:

For Patrick Crowley, the bright and bluntspoken assistant executive director for the National Education Association Rhode Island teachers union, it is Teach for America’s central premise that offends.

To contend that a college graduate with no formal training is qualified to teach, he suggests, is to contend that teaching is something less than a profession; a task worthy of amateurs. It is an attitude, he says, that would seem absurd in other fields.

“I know how to use a knife and I went to college,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I can be a surgeon.”

Ok, I can understand why the assistant executive director of the teachers’ union would be upset, for one these are not dues-paying NEA members.  If additional teachers are needed, of course he will want more full time, dues-paying teachers employed.  Second, many of the numbers and results that these TFA teachers are showing are making his members look bad.  TFA injects energy into the schoools that even they admit isn’t sustainable by the same people long term.  Yet we keep the teachers in the classrooms for 20 years or more.

One other aside that is wrong with Crowley’s analogy is teaching is an art and being a surgeon is a science.  Do we require painters to get an education so they can be professional painters?  Do we require singers and other musicians?  No.  Those are arts that you either can do or can’t do.  Either you can teach, or you can’t.  An education can get you better at it, but skills in the arts is something that you have.

Another quote from Crowley in the article that is a little concerning, and one that I’d be pretty offended by if I was someone paying his salary was

Crowley, the teachers union official, says a system that would drop high-achieving teachers into a handful of classrooms or separate out a small contingent of students for a charter school education is, at its core, a two-tiered system that leaves too many behind.

“I’m concerned,” he says, that the TFA agenda is “about education for the few.”

So he sees this as a bad thing now that we are educating children with better teachers?  His main concern is that TFA can’t educate them all?  That there aren’t enough TFA teachers to go around? Isn’t he basically admitting that TFA teachers are better than his NEA members? Doesn’t that also say that getting a degree in teaching is almost useless?  He’s saying that these people who don’t have a degree in teaching, but know how to teach, are doing a better job than his NEA members.  And yet he sees that as a bad thing?

Yet again, we see what the main concern of the NEA is.  It’s not education.




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