Saturday, May 30, 2015

Teach for America Is As Toxic Pedagogically As It Is Politically

   When I organized a panel for the Labor and Working Class History Association Conference in Washington on "Why Progressive Faculty Should Boycott Teach for America," what was foremost in my mind was the role that TFA was playing in supplying replacement labor for school districts firing veteran teachers and its training of leaders promoting school privatization, but what I came away from the panel with was a much enhanced understanding of the damage TFA pegadogy is doing in inner city schools.

   This is not a subject I had much familiarity with, since i am not a teacher educator, or someone involved with training teachers or developing curricula, but the composition of the panel, which included two teacher educators,Dave Green and Joan Croce Grim, and two former TFA Corps members, Desmera Gatewood and Annie Tan, ended up focusing much of the discussion on what TFA teachers bring into the classroom.

   And here, what i learned was horrifying. Basically, because TFA teachers are thrown into extremely challenging school settings with only five weeks of training, and no student teaching experience, they are given a template which includes cookie cutter formulas for handling discipline and class management issues,  and an approach to teaching which ONLY emphasizes preparing students for standardized tests.  TFA teachers are required to follow this template even when it isn't working, even when it alienates students, and even though it totally excludes any attempt to make instruction relevant to cultural background and traditions of the students they are working with.

     The results of this can be disastrous in any school, but they are particularly disastrous in Charter Schools, where more and more TFA Corps members are sent, where almost all the teachers are from TFA and few of them have been in the classroom more than 2 or 3 years. The results in such schools is that you vary between classrooms that are out of control, to those which practice zero tolerance discipline and expel large numbers of students, a choice which forces many charters in the second direction, and a pedagogy that is Eurocentric, stale and entirely oriented around test prep.

    It would be hard to imagine a worse scenario for students in low and moderate income communities- fearful, inexperienced teachers,  saddled with a curriculum that stifles students creativity inquisitiveness and rebellious instincts who teach in terror of superiors who demand they stick to a rigid script.

     It is a crime that we are doing this to teachers, but an even worse crime that we are doing this to children, especially children of color
What is going on in heavily TFA dominated charter schools is something straight out of Charles Dickens, and it is spreading to public schools following the charter model who work in fear of being shut down.

     Teach for America is not only toxic politically, it is toxic pedagogically