Teach For America sounds like a good idea. Train young people to teach and send them to places where they are most needed. Places like rural areas or low income areas where nobody is willing to teach. Places like Chicago.
Wait, what? Chicago? The place that recently laid off over one thousand teachers? The place that closed a whole bunch of schools because of low attendance? Yep. Chicago signed a contract with TFA to add 325 new teachers this year while firing 1,000. Where is the sense in that?
Union busting, plain and simple. It’s brilliantly Machiavellian. Get a bunch of mostly idealistic highly privileged youth and sign them up with promises of changing the world for our most underserved citizens while bringing them in to localities that have a strong union presence and don’t need new teachers. This combination makes TFA almost immune to criticism. You can almost smell the righteous indignation in the air. “How dare you criticize me! I’m doing it for the children! We do a lot of good! Look at how well the kids are doing! Why do you hate the children?”
Look, this isn’t difficult. You can be performing a very visible societal good while at the same time performing an invisible societal evil with equally dire consequences. It’s easy to ignore the evil that you can’t see for the good that is right in front of your face day after day. What’s happening in Chicago is the best example of that generally hidden evil.
Teaching is one of those few jobs where two (or even one) years of experience makes a huge difference. No amount of schooling in the world can adequately prepare you for putting yourself in front of 30 kids for the first time. What’s happening in Chicago is the removal of one thousand union teachers who have that couple of years’ experience and replacing them with a couple hundred non-union rookies who have none. This is not in the best interests of the children.
One of the major counter-arguments you will hear is that TFA is building for the future. Sure, these are new teachers, but they’re people who WANT to teach as opposed to teachers who are just doing it for a job. These TFA teachers often stay on after their two year contracts. That may be true, but they don’t want to stay in teaching in any greater frequency than their unionized counterparts. Plus, who’s to say that Chicago will decide to keep you? There’s already a precedence for firing experienced teachers and hiring TFA teachers. Why should that change?
There are many things wrong with how we educate our teachers. A teaching degree is filled with mindlessly wasteful courses only to be followed by a year of slave labor (aka, internships). Those things need to be fixed, but TFA is not the solution to the problem. The solution will likely look like this: Allow anyone with an advanced degree to be hired as a teacher at locally comparable cost of living wages and pair them with a rotation of experienced teachers to show them the ropes for a year. At the end of the year, the teachers vote on if you have what it takes to teach.
TFA does nothing to solve the various crises our school systems are suffering from. They only exacerbate the problem by allowing places like Chicago to bust unions and drive down already low teacher’s salaries. I can only hope that TFA gets morphed into something like I describe above because there is a lot to be gained by broadening the pool of available teachers but TFA is only succeeding at replacing the pool.