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Teach for America not as beneficial as it claims

By Aysha Mahmood
On March 3, 2014

Teach for America is one of the most well-known school reform organizations operating in the United States. Although its intentions are noble, the system actually has several flaws that harm the communities they intend to help and is in desperate need of reform. Essentially, the program takes recent college graduates and has them teach in low income, high crime rate communities with little training or experience.
 The truth of the matter is a majority of these college students that choose to participate in TFA aren't in the organization because working in an underprivileged community is their dream life goal. Rather, TFA acts as a buffer between the end of college and the beginning of their actual career. The short, two-year commitment caters to those looking for a filler in the time in between. Two years means there will always be a shift in the way the class is taught, what it's taught and how comfortable the students are with the teacher. The kids being taught in these communities need teachers who stay longer than that. They need teachers with years of experience who are willing to put more time and effort in the classroom than what the TFA contract requires. Sure, not everyone in TFA is a college student and there are people who go there with the good intention of wanting to make a difference, but how can a real difference be made with only five weeks of training?

This short time period is nowhere near the actual amount of time needed to become a teacher, especially one that will be teaching in a disadvantaged community. With no background on education or how to handle children whatsoever, how can one effectively do that without experience? Assuming that there will also be behavior problems, as there is in every school in America, I can't imagine a newly trained teacher will be able to tame a classroom or and execute the procedures they've been taught without any previous practice.
"These student teachers sometimes only - they only teach for 12 days, one hour a day, and the classes often only have maybe 10 or 12 students in them. Some classes have as few as four students. So this is not a realistic training model, and you need to practice teaching to get good at it," Gary Rubenstein, a former TFA alumnus, said in an NPR interview.
The simple fact is that those in TFA are not trained to be professional teachers. The idea that a little over a month of training to teach in America's neediest cities is sufficient to do the job is actually quite absurd. Their students are ultimately harmed by a never ending cycle of under trained teachers who are not at all prepared to educate a classroom.
The biggest problem with the TFA, however, is that they are replacing veteran teachers who are actually very passionate about their job. Wendy Kopp, who originally founded TFA, had the goal of filling teacher shortages in the U.S. So then why is the organization replacing them?

"Districts pay thousands of dollars in fees to TFA for each corps member in addition to their salaries at the expense of the existing workforce. Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members," Journalist James Cersonsky, in an interview with The Crimson, said.
Chicago isn't the only place that has realized the negative effects of the TFA. Last December, The Washington post reported that Pittsburgh dropped its $750,000 Teach for America contract, making it the first time any school board had reversed itself on bringing in TFA corps members into a district. Board members who made the decision expressed their skepticism on the short training saying "there are no shortcuts to experience." Teacher Kipp Dawson stated that local graduates, as well as substitute teachers, would love to have filled the teaching positions if only they had been asked and considered it a "slap in the face" that Pittsburg was even considering bringing outsiders with no experience into their school system. Instead of replacing a teacher that wants to be there, TFA should place its members where no qualified teachers have applied.
TFA has connections to dozens of charter schools and this focus on standardized testing and privatization drive communities downhill and work against the interest of local teachers and students alike. In order to stick with its goal in wanting to help needy communities, TFA has to provide proper training, longer contracts and place teachers in areas where no one else wants to teach. Only then will those in the organization truly "teach for America." 


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