Teach for (two years to improve your app in) America

murphyThe concern over America’s stagnation in educational measurements is largely an issue of the lower tier of students rather than the mid-tier and upper-tier. As a natural consequence of drastic income inequality in the U.S., lower-tier typically refers to lower income. In fact, according to NBC news, “socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the U.S., with some 15 percent of the variation in student performance explained by this.”

Teach for America has emerged as a prominent organization devoted to providing first-rate college graduates to low-income schools with insufficient resources.

Enrollment has been climbing since its inception in 1989, but this past year, the organization saw enrollment drop 12 percent from last year. It seems that there are many who, like me, are uncomfortable with the premises upon which the organization is built.

 

 

I have my concerns with students who use this opportunity as a platform to boost their graduate school applications. I’m also apprehensive of the ability of silver spoon Ivy League graduates to handle low-income children that are growing up in an environment distinctly different from the quiet suburbs most excellent college students come from. 

So maybe you get lucky, and you have a TFA employee that is absolutely stellar. The kids love him, the teachers respect him, and most importantly, his students show significant improvement. And then, just like that, two years have passed, and he’s gone to get a master’s of biochemistry at Oxford. See ya kids, thanks for the résumé booster!

This happens even here at ASU. TFA has a special relationship with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, only confusing why teachers should go into educating young people. There’s a partnership at ASU with TFA. In fact, “The partnership is institution wide, and coordination of the partnership is headquartered in the Teachers College.” This exclusive partnership does not focus squarely on the quality, but to prepare teachers for any job anytime.

I’m not sure TFA is a contributor to the stability and quality of a school — at ASU or any primary school in the U.S.

These are just worries of mine that may or may not be pessimistic, but these apprehensions are secondary compared to the main gripe I have with TFA: I think giving college graduates, albeit elite ones, five weeks of training and setting them off to be teachers is insulting to those who feel education is a profession.

TFA has become part of the nasty combination of factors making teaching a disrespected profession in America. The national average starting salary for teachers is a meager $35,672, alongside the increasing prevalence of erroneous “value-added” ratings. Any attempt they make to protect their profession through strikes and unions are met with intense criticism that they do not care about their students.

I’d expect some to criticize this and argue that TFA is not saying that college graduates are as good as actual teachers, but instead the next best thing, hence their placement in low-income, under-resourced places.

To this, I’d have to point out that regardless of the intentions of TFA, people without a commitment to education being placed in the same position as those who are not. The fact remains that people who have chosen the route of education as a passion and profession, and people who have chosen the route of education as a two-year stop-gap before they move on to something else will both be called teachers.

Education is a career, not a stepping stone. At ASU, the TFA website makes no mention of building the teaching profession as a career — only the benefits to those who can apply and gain “… successful careers in education, policy, law, medicine and business, and they serve as lifelong advocates for their students.

Reach the columnist at bjmurph2@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @MurphJamin