Advice to Folks Considering TFA

John Merrow wrote a recent column on his advice to college grads thinking about joining Teach For Awhile. His advice isn’t bad, but here is what I wrote:


My advice is DON’T!

Don’t do TFA if you want to help kids and teach them information and skills that they need.

Only join TFA if you cynically want to pad your resume.

(The 5-week indoctrination with about 1 hour a day of practice tutoring that you are given in TFA is essentially worthless in terms of actually teaching. My young cousin, who did TFA for a year before giving up, said that beginning school after that ‘training’ was like being ‘a lamb thrown to the wolves’.)

The last thing underprivileged kids need is somebody who doesn’t know jack about teaching to come in, fail, and leave in a year or two. They need somebody who’s actually studied pedagogy and theories of education and has at least six months of practice teaching under a good, veteran teacher — and who plans to stick around in the profession for a long time.

Just as you wouldn’t want a nurse, physician, therapist, attorney, or architect who had only had five weeks of training, you wouldn’t want a teacher who had only trained for a little over a month. Not for yourself, not for your kids. It’s not fair to inflict that on poor, black, or brown kids.

Instead, make a long-term commitment: take some education courses towards a master’s in education in a subject that you love, and make sure you get good practice-teaching for at least a semester.

And when you are hired, make sure you follow John Merrow’s suggestion: ask around and find out who’s a really good teacher, and ask to sit in the back and watch. You will learn a lot.

If you are interested in teaching math and have a good background with math or math-related courses such as economics or physics, then there is an organization that does all this. It’s called Math for America, and there are branches in several cities. They pay for a full year of practical and theoretical training before you apply to work, as well as a living stipend. They also expect a five- or six-year commitment to teach in the city after your first year.

Published in: on April 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm  Comments (22)  

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  1. Pretty sage advice. Perhaps one day, TFA and TNTP and their acolytes will take it. Until then we’ll be force-feed the typical TFA & TNTP bs wrapped in a civil rights/equality mantra/banter. It’s so troubling that the kids who need the most; still get the least- even with those pseudo-civil rights pioneers that are 40-50 years removed from the original struggle arguing otherwise.


  2. Pretty good advice. Perhaps TFA and TNPT and their acolytes should take it. It baffles me that the students who need the most- get the least. To add further insult, the “least” is cloaked in some bs civil rights and/or equality banter. It’s very disturbing that we’ve reached that point today and only a few people see it for what it is.


  3. I have been rallying against TFA’s for a long time. They all have one thing in common: they lack classroom management. Totally. Our kids have been chewing them up and spitting them out for years now. Starting with that corpulent “leader” of DC schools. She too, had no classroom control, and taught little to nothing.

    Tip: Without classroom management, you will not be able to teach a thing.


    • What school and city was that? You’d think that she (and Michelle Rhee) were perfect paragons of positive professional pedagogy, the way they posture and praise themselves…


      • She taught in Baltimore and has admitted to duct-taping her kids mouths shut b/c she couldn’t control them. Look it up on youtube.


      • I’ve read that Henderson has said she taught 4 miles from where she grew up (in Mt. Vernon, NY) and, according to TFA, Henderson “taught middle-school Spanish in the South Bronx ” Sorry, don’t know the name of the school.


      • I.S. 162 in District Seven, located on St. Ann’s Avenue, in the South Bronx.


  4. […] John Merrow recently offered advice to those considering joining Teach for America, and retired teacher and active blogger G.F. Brandenburg decided to offer his own advice. […]


  5. […] Click here to read the entire article and the comments. […]


  6. No one can become a good educator in 5 weeks. That’s clear. The real problem is, our 4-year institutions aren’t doing any better in preparing our nation’s teachers. TFA wouldn’t get traction if traditional pathways produced teachers that were demonstrably better. But all the research indicates that TFA teachers do as well (and slightly better in mathematics) than traditionally prepared educators. Anecdotally, having sat on hiring committees, it’s clear that TFA candidates are, on average, much better equipped to enter the classroom than other applicants.


    • “The real problem is, our 4-year institutions aren’t doing any better in preparing our nation’s teachers.”



      • Mathematica 2004, findings report that TFA teachers were as effective at reading and slightly more effective at math instruction than traditionally prepared teachers in their first and second years of instruction at similar schools. Want to drive TFA out of business? Then we need our traditional prep. programs to produce teachers that can outperform people with 5-6 weeks of prep.


    • Um, er, not a useful comparison. A teacher from a 4-year college will stick around longer than a TFA worker. Compare a teacher with a 4-year degree and 20 years of experience to a TFA worker instead, since having positions filled by TFA is like having a perpetual new teacher.


  7. As a Math for America Fellow, I would definitely recommend it.
    I cannot even imagine having survived my first year without my full year of student teaching under my belt.


  8. Teach for America is recruiting graduates from our college of education and then using them as advertisements of successful TfA teachers. It’s disingenuous to sell the ‘theory’ that eschews traditional teacher education programs by promoting content knowledge as superior to pedagogy and child development.

    Further, TfA is placing cadres of untrained amateurs in TN cities that do not have teacher shortages. TfAers are taking positions from experienced educators who taught in very difficult classrooms. How can TfA institutionalize cheating children with challenging learning needs of experienced, well trained educators? Does TfA have any integrity whatsoever?


    • Simple answer to the last question:
      For $70,000 per recruit, they could actually afford to have a year-long training program with stipends for the student teacher and the cooperating 5teachers and college classes on education theory and practice.
      Instead, they waste the money on advertising, Wendy Kopp’s salary and perks, and the perks and salaries of a bunch of other self-important and truly “excellent” do-nothing twits who failed as classroom teachers before retreating into being pundits and experts.
      It is a scam.

      Kind of like Mother Teresa: as Christopher Hitchens correctly pointed out, she got many, many millions (billions?) in donations from all over the world. She shared exactly **none** of that wealth with the poor of the slums in India. The poor did not get first class or even second class medical care. They were left instead to die in crappy, dirty conditions just like in the slums they came from. In her case, I have no idea where the money went. With TfA, the cash goes to the folks with no integrity whatsoever, and none of it goes into training the corps members in ecuational theory or practice. Where did the money go that Mother Teresa collected?


      • Wendy Kopp, specifically, thought up TFA as her UG thesis (at Princeton, naturally) and founded it right after getting her BA. No teaching experience at all. Are we supposed to believe she had the best interests of poor youth in mind?


  9. […] educator Guy Brandenburg responds to John’s post with his own advice:  “My advice is DON’T!”  He tells us “the last thing underprivileged kids […]


  10. Cry me a river you self righteous fools. The TFA newbies are outperforming your 55 year old highly experienced union bums on standardized tests. And that is a fact that the NEA just cannot dispute.
    I get so tired of your whining about socio economic factors and other equally irrelevant nonsense as your excuses for failure. The newbies are doing superior work simply because they GIVE A DAM!

    If a newbie wants to succeed, the last thing he/she needs is to closely affiliate with a loser who tells them that the situation is hopeless due to their home life situation. You have a captive audience for 6.5 hours each school day. Use it to teach math and science. You are not paid social workers whose main goal is to make certain that your kids wallow in their their issues. JUST TEACH! The very last thing under privileged kids need is a crying towel at school. They know their home life stinks. Show them a way that education will improve their lives.


    • Actually there are no such studies showing that brand new TFAer outperform veteran teachers.
      I have posted on my blog the results of the only study I could find which compared TFA newbies with other newbies, on the math & reading standardized tests you refer to. There is no real difference, which doesn’t surprise me. It takes 3-4 years to begin to get competent as a teacher.
      How many days or weeks of actual classroom experience do you have where you can proclaim such propaganda as being truth?


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