From cities to towns across the country, the national educational system is struggling, and people are trying different approaches to fix it. Of the growing numbers of college graduates looking to "give back" through meaningful service, some choose to serve in education, either as teachers or in after-school programs. Teach for America (TFA), founded 20 years ago to address the achievement gap, is one program which places college graduates into paid teaching positions in struggling classrooms. TFA is in the middle of a major national expansion effort that has reached Puget Sound (Seattle & Federal Way).
A Seattle Times Article: "Teach for America seeks foothold in Seattle area" (Nov. 3, 2010) includes background and some opinions from various constituencies impacted by this shift.
A goal of the Krista Foundation is to encourage healthy dialogue and work toward best practices in the broad field of service volunteerism. Whether technically "volunteer" (unpaid/stipended) or vocational (paid), intercultural service should be done with care for the volunteer, and with care for the community where service is done. We appreciate the way TFA's model can be a platform to discuss best practices for service and vocational work by young adults who want to make a difference.
Quick summary of arguments:
- TFA gives participants only 6 weeks of training before placing them into difficult classrooms.
- TFA teachers flood a market where even certified teachers aren't getting hired, and then, after the 2-year stint, 2/3 move on, increasing staff turnover.
- Former TFA teachers tend to have mixed feelings about the program, and site higher rates of burnout and disillusionment. (see NY Times Amanda Fairbanks, and "Teach for Awhile" Seattle Times 11.16.10, or)
- TFA teachers make up for not having a teaching credential by bringing vitality and innovation to help turn classrooms around, and site that students of TFA teachers perform as well as those with certified teachers.
- TFA teachers take classes toward a certification, improving their skills as they work. TFA is one of several non-traditional programs for teacher certification.
- Some teachers later move into leadership roles in schools and school districts, impacting educational policy.
Also consider reading Taking Care: The Quest for an Ethical and Mutual Approach to Service, an article by the Krista Foundation's Executive Director, Valerie Norwood.
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