Posted tagged ‘Teach for America’

The Myth of Freedom Writers

February 15, 2010

From time to time, I’ll look at the links that Word Press puts at the bottom of my articles.   I do this because I hope to see what other bloggers are saying on similar topics.   A post I did on Guggenheim Elementary took me to this little nugget today, “In order to achieve quality education, we must educate and hire quality teachers. In this day and age however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get new teachers into the field. A majority of the educators you find in the inner city are young. This is an effective combination because the enthusiastic young teachers are driven to make a positive impression on their students.”

Now, I don’t want to pick on the writer of this blog.  The blog belongs to a student at the University of Oregon.   However, I am increasingly seeing the myth of the young teacher as educational savior and I see it championed by people who should know better.  Teach for America is built on this myth.

The Myth of Freedom Writers: A young, attractive teacher comes into a rough inner-city school where the old, physically ugly, burned out teachers have given up on teaching and the administration encourages that type of burned out behavior.   The teacher who knows nothing of the urban teaching environment has a rough few days, but then wins her students respect, which only makes the rest of the school that much more against her.  She makes huge sacrifices in her personal life and eventually her students learn. There is a terrible incident that shakes her class, but she helps them to rise above it.

Now before I continue, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with young, energetic, attractive teachers.   However, what usually happens to a caring first year teacher is better illustrated by the character of Mister Prezbo in The Wire.  He’s been a cop in the worst part of Baltimore, but he’s not able to get control of a class of 30 8th graders until the experienced teacher from across the hall comes in and takes control of the situation.  The first half of the first year for most new teachers will be chaos.   The good ones will eventually learn what they’re doing and become excellent teachers.   The others will burn themselves out very quickly and be out of the classroom (usually in educational policy telling teachers what to do) in 2 or 3 years.

Innovation is not Dictated by Age: My mother was a more innovative teacher at 70 than I will ever be.  She had me teach her how to use a computer and she redesigned her school’s whole math curriculum when research showed multiplication and division were more effectively taught together.   At my current school, our two biggest innovators are women in the 60s who have a passion to keep up on what’s going on.

Youth and Experience Have Different Strengths: Young teachers do have more energy, but that doesn’t make them better teachers.  Unfocused energy doesn’t accomplish much of anything.  A good school should have a variety of ages in the faculty because that promising first year teacher isn’t going to alway know what to do and that’s when an experienced colleague can really make a difference.  The best new teachers I have known, have had a mentor that worked very closely with them.

At my second teaching assignment, our school was terribly overcrowded.   A brand new school was opened up and our boundaries were redrawn.  17 teachers lost their jobs and 600 students went to the new school.  Our principal called to try and get those 17 teachers jobs, but the new school would have none of it.  They were in partnership with a college and they wanted their entire faculty to come from their teacher program.   Despite having resources that my school couldn’t even dream of, the student behavior was terrible and when they got their standardized test scores back, they went into panic mode.   They called my principal to ask how we did so well and she told him, “You’ve got all new teachers.  What did you think would happen?”

We All Need Help: The easiest way to find out which new teachers will make it is to find out who is open to help and to new ideas.   Teach for America brainwashes their students into believing that all older teachers are part of the problem.   Some TFA teachers break through their programming others persist that they know everything no matter how badly they are floundering.  As a second career teacher, I have a lot of respect for people who decided later in life that they would make teaching their career.  I really don’t have much respect for 22 year olds who decided that with the job market tight, they’d teach for a couple of years. Then, after they saved the world they’d do something else and make the big money.

Older Teachers are at Risk: Opponents of tenure say that it protects bad teachers.   However, it also protects older teachers who may be a little bit more expensive.  Why pay a 50 year old $60,000 a year when you can pay a 22 year old $35,000?  Some programs like Teach for America are ushering in scores of poorly trained young teachers into the classrooms and have the contracts to guarantee spots.  I love To Sir With Love as pure entertainment and I do believe there is room for Mark Thackeray in the classroom, it is just that I also believe there is room for Charles Chipping and Glenn Holland.

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