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Teach For All – Cheap, untrained labour or classroom saviours?

NZ and England have Teach First.  The USA has Teach For America (TFA).  There are Teach For All schemes worldwide.  So are the schemes any good for the trainees and, more importantly, for the students they teach?

A little background: The schemes give recruits little to no training and then put them into schools to teach.  The recruits are mentored in the job and agree to stay for 2 years.  They are usually put into low income area schools and they are there, according to TFA literature, to address inequality and improve the lot of poorer students.

There is a mountain of literature out there from Teach For All explaining why they believe the scheme to be a good thing. But since many are opposed to TFA, I want to consider instead, the arguments against the programmes.

Cheap Labour

There is an argument that the scheme is there only to feed cheap labour into schools.  The low starting wages due to the teachers being unqualified during their 2 year initial training allows schools to reduce their costs by employing teaching staff at unqualified teacher pay scales.  As a result, the scheme makes the untrained more financially attractive compared with the more expensive but trained teacher.  This can be particularly attractive to schools that are run as businesses, such as charter schools.

Staff Turnover 

Another issue that has been raised in the high turnover of trainees, with a much lower proportion staying in the profession than those who are trained via a traditional university course and school placements.  For the Teach First proponents the high turnover is not an issue, since the scheme actively promotes itself as a stepping stone for graduates into other fields rather than a way to enter a life-long job in teaching, and gaining long-term experience and a deeper knowledge of pedagogy does not seem to be a focus.  However, the high turnover and low retention of these trainees means students in the target schools (poorer districts) are more likely to have a succession of new and untrained teachers.

Job Insecurity

Former TFA recruit, Chad Sommer, highlights the issue of job security:

“A fellow TFA corps member in Chicago who worked at a charter school told me that she met with her principal each Friday to find out if she should bother coming back to work the following Monday. Another told me that his principal explicitly told him that she knew he would only be with her school for two years, so she was going to work him to death. And when he left after his TFA commitment, she would just replace him with a new TFA recruit. Churn and burn is the business model for these schools, and TFA provides a continuous supply of naively idealistic workers who have no choice but to accept their lot…

By driving down teacher salaries and weakening workplace protections, TFA has a corrosive effect on the teaching profession. But behind TFA’s role as a feeder system for charter schools is a hypocrisy that’s especially galling. Source.

Chad Sommer goes on to say:

Considering the domineering corporate influence on TFA, I would suggest that TFA has become an inverted labor union. Traditional labor unions work to promote the interests of the working people who comprise them by collectively bargaining for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. Through its partnerships with charter schools and its mandate that corps members take the first job they’re offered, TFA is lowering wages, reducing benefits and worsening the working conditions of teachers. It is increasingly clear that the mission of the corporate class is to destroy teachers unions and remake the teaching profession into a temporary, low paying job. Source.

Students’ Impressions

Dangeous Minds - PfeifferNot all students are happy with untrained teachers and the high turnover, and some find it patronising that poorer and mainly non-white students are deemed to need ‘rescuing’ by predominantly white, middle and upper class graduates.

That’s not to say the recruits’ intentions are not well meant, but Rachael Smith puts it very eloquently here where she condemns those that come into “the ghetto” as would-be saviours of the poor yet are “only seen for two years because we are a stepping stone.”

Interestingly, it has been incredibly tricky to find out what the students themselves think.  Thier voices, online at least, are drowned out by the adult voices for and against the scheme, and maybe that in itself is rather worrying.

If you are a student who has had a TFA teacher, I would love to hear from you (both positive and negative experiences).

What do traditionally trained teachers think?

Kate Osgood caused quite a stir when she wrote her open letter to TFA recruits and followed up with further questions on the effectiveness (and motives) of TFA, noting that

“Teach for America is not about creating and supplying the teachers my students need.  When an organization spends more on recruitment, PR, and lobbying than it does on training recruits, you know that the kids are not the focus.”

She concludes that:

“My students need so much more than what Teach for America can provide.  The injustice of placing poorly-trained, uncertified novices in our neediest classrooms is frankly, unacceptable. “

This blogger explains why he feels TFA is the wrong route to teaching, saying he is “not here to destroy or take down TFA. I simply do not support their approach.”  He believes that in ignoring the root of the issues – namely poverty – TFA and the like are just papering over the cracks and allowing the status quo to continue.

What do the TF/TFA recruits themselves think?

Some former TFA recruits have struggled with their place in the scheme of things.  One notes:

“The educational and cultural imperialism that my fellow Corps Members and I were perpetrating was not lost on me nor on many of my peers. It was an inconvenient truth that we talked about over drinks and dinner when we returned to our neighborhoods at night. We maintained a belief, however, that despite our temporary teacher status and (in my case) my permanent Northern whiteness, the good that we did for our students outweighed the harm.” Source.

Another recruit, who left the scheme, says:

I sat through a workshop at a TFA Professional Development Saturday last November designed to help solve management issues, and I was stunned by the sense of despair that permeated the room.  In a group of perhaps twenty corps members, everyone was on the verge of giving up.  And everyone gave the same reasons:  “I stand there, and I talk, and then I yell, and then I beg, and then I threaten, and still no one has heard a word I’ve said.  It’s like I’m invisible.  I might as well not be there.Source

The first batch of Kiwi TF recruits is still going through the training, and so there is no post-experience reflection out there yet, but it will be interesting to follow developments over the coming years and see whether the scheme fares any better here, on reflection, than it has elsewhere.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been through TFA in any country, so that I can better understand the pros and cons of this scheme.

As it stands, I don’t see that it’s a valid way to improve the education system and lift it to a higher, better-trained status with very knowledgeable and dedicated staff.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

du bois untrained minds

What a Professional Teacher Preparation Program Looks Like

“We currently have a system that invites anyone with a college degree and a pulse to be a teacher.

So how do we think that’s going?

It invites exactly the kind of contempt that we are receiving at the hands of hedge fund managers and other “reformy” know-it-alls.”

Read more here: What a Professional Teacher Preparation Program Looks Like.

 

 

What will we come back to after the school holidays?

It’s not looking like it will be an overly restful break for most school staff this summer, and many parents and pupils will also be worrying what they will return to in 2013.

Closures

Some will be worrying that there will be no school to even return to, not least of all those in Christchurch who are facing mergers and closures, and the wonderful special needs staff at Salisbury School who are still fighting valiantly to keep their residential school open.

Fighting Back

People all over the country will be writing submissions to parliament to prevent these closures.  Parents who are worried for their children, teachers, principals and teacher  aides whoa re concerned for their students.  Kiwis concerned for their communities.

Anyone who has been following the rise of charter schools (or partnership Schools as they have been re-branded here) will be reading the Education Amendment Bill and making submissions about that, too, concerned for the devaluation of our education system by putting profits before people.

Pay

Many school staff will be worrying that they won’t be paid and that their break will be ruined by money worries and fighting bureaucracy.  It’s bad enough being paid wrongly (or not at all) in term time,  but school staff know that they will have real trouble getting pay woes sorted curing the break when school administration staff are on their holidays.  That means stressed and worried teachers, teacher aides, caretakers, admin staff, and more, all at the one time of year when a rest is paramount to fire up for another big year.

Fast-Track Teacher Training

We will return to the first batch of teachers trained on a six-week intensive course, arriving in the classroom to learn on-the-job with the bare minimum in pedagogical knowledge and less still in classroom experience.  We will be watching and waiting to see how that pans out for the trainees, the mentors and the students.

Jobs

And as always at this time of year, many are worrying about finding a job because they were on short term contracts.  Some will leave the profession – others will take their skills overseas.

And the rest…

Add to that league tables, National Standards, class sizes, performance pay, property searches, hungry students… the list goes on.

Is it too late?

Yes,t his summer, teachers will be doing more than eating pavlova on the beach,  planning and setting up their classrooms.

They will be worrying about the future of public education in New Zealand

and hoping that it’s not too late to stop the rot.

Education – Taking A New Path

This is the second part of my report on Pasi Sahlberg’s Bayfield School talk, 5/10/12.  Part 1 is here.

Equity

Sahlberg is emphatic that all students must have the same chance at receiving a good education at all levels and that in order to improve education you must improve equity.

What does he mean by equity in education?

‘Equity in education is the strength of relationship between a pupil’s family background and the education they receive.’  

Rich, poor, immigrant, first generation, native, whatever – all should receive the same quality teaching and the same opportunities.  It’s a lofty ambition, but not impossible by any means.

Performance Pay / Collaboration

Teachers work collaboratively within schools and school-to-school.  Schools share ideas and resources with each other.  There is no performance pay – Sahlberg says it does not work, and it would not be accepted by teachers or management there as they value working collaboratively and see that as key to providing a good and fair education for all.  It’s no different to what teachers here are saying – we value cooperation and collaboration above the chance of an extra dollar.

Accountability

Here Sahlberg offered a warning:

‘Accountability is what’s left when responsibility is taken away.’ 

He stressed that accountability should be trust based, with schools self-monitoring, and monitoring each other, with minimal external monitoring from government or external agencies, and emphasised that, ideally, you should be reviewing your practices and performance with other schools, locally.  When asked what he thought had led to the level of trust teachers enjoy in Finland, he said

‘I think it’s to do with how teachers are viewed and treated by government and Fins.  There is trust.

Ministers do not tell teachers how to teach.’

Teacher Training

Finnish teachers must get an undergraduate  degree and Masters degree before they do their teacher training.  There is no other path.  No one-year course, no 6-week fast-tracking, not even a three-year course.   There is a better chance of getting into medical or law courses than teacher training.   After 30 years of this system, now just about all Finnish teachers have been trained this way.  As a result, teachers are seen as well-trained and well-educated, and they are held in esteem.  There are no teacher shortages.  I know I’d be more than happy to do a Masters and upgrade my skills and knowledge.  I see that as a win:win situation.

High Five

Parental Choice

The idea of different types of school and of private fee-paying schools is not one that Finland supports.  Sahlberg explains that offering choices in education weakens the whole system and weakens communities by causing unnecessary competition.  He argues that schools must be connected to their communities and to each other for success.  In Finland, parents can choose any school for their children, yet they almost always choose the local school because there is an understanding that the level of care and education will be the same at all schools even if the topics/areas covered differ.  Rather than pitting school against school, cooperation, equality and fairness are again the focus.

In other words, teachers want to do their best for their students, and people trust teachers and schools to be doing just that.

Fewer regulations.  Less monitoring.  More trust.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Read the rest:  Part 1 is here.

6-Week Teacher Training Course

A new teacher training programme has been developed by Teach First and The University of Auckland that will see graduates undertake a six-week course over the summer holidays and then placed in schools to do the rest of their training in-the-job.

Those chosen for the scheme are being touted as the creme-de-la-creme graduates who received top honours, and the goal is to get them trained and ready and out teaching as soon as possible.

But even that is being questioned: “The PPTA has found the current proposal is in breach of both the State Sector Act and the Education Act; there is no evidence that entrants to the Teach First Course will be “brighter” than entrants to more conventional New Zealand pre-service secondary courses” PPTA Source

Now, I am not opposed to fast tracking per se.  If this or any other course is based on sound ideas and proves to work, then great.

But I do have some questions…

THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Why is it assumed that if a graduate got top honours they will automatically be a good teacher?  Many  brilliant teachers  didn’t get fabulous undergraduate degrees, but man, they do know how to teach.
  • Why is it that the teachers trained on these schemes are only sent to low decile schools?  The argument that they need great teachers doesn’t sit well with me because there is nothing to say the people on this scheme will be any different to those coming out of a one-year or three-year course.
  • How will the trainees be supported once in work?   Just how will it work?  Because the reality is they will “responsible for the learning of anything up to 100 challenging adolescents after only six weeks of preparation” Source
  • Will this scheme undermine other (longer) courses and those training on them?  Assuming the fast-tracked teachers are paid while they effectively train on the job, how will that affect uptake and morale on the full time courses that people are paying to undertake?
  • Who is doing the mentoring?  There is an implication that the schools these fast-trackers will be sent to are short of good, high level teachers.  If that is true, just who is going to be mentoring them?  And will there be a selection of different mentors, so the student sees a variety of teaching styles and gets a broad understanding of different practices?
  • Does this course have a knock on effect of further demeaning teachers in the eyes of the public? Will people believe that just about anyone can teach if you can do the job after just six weeks of training?  Or maybe people will assume all teachers arrive under-prepared, especially if they are in a low decile school.

So many questions.

CLASS CONTACT TIME

 

I found the following quotes interesting to compare:

“A year-long course has a lot of non-contact time, when trainees are out in schools.”

University of Auckland’s dean of education, Graeme Aitken.  Source

“Trainee teachers in proper teacher education spend large blocks of practicum time in classes where they gain invaluable teaching experience. These fast track programmes won’t even touch the sides, particularly as they’ll be held over summer when there are no children in schools to teach.”

NZEI President Ian Leckie.  Source

I know what Mr Aiken means, and I’m not being facetious, but surely the contact time in schools matters hugely?  Surely being able to train in the field then go back are read more theory/discuss with peers, then go back into the field and evolve your learning and your skills is a good model.  And that’s the very bit that’s being cut out here.

As one commentator said “Learning the theory is all very well but until you’ve stood in front of a class and had to manage 30 different sets of behaviour you have no idea how you will cope. For that shock to come when the school, and its students, are stuck with you for two years is dreadful.”

DROPPING OUT

The argument is that the scheme is being used to attract people into those subjects with largest shortages.  But many factors feed into that shortage – poor work conditions, stress, and low wages being key.  These are in no way addressed by the scheme and so  fast-tracked teachers will most likely drop out at roughly the same rate as other teaching graduates.

It’s questionable whether fast-tracking is actually effective in keeping  teachers into the classroom.  “Almost half the first participants in a similar scheme in Australia are no longer teaching after two years.”   “This high dropout rate mirrors that of programmes with the same features in the United States”  NZ Herald 11.6.12 (link below)

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Why do we actually have a shortage of teachers?  Will this course train teachers well?  Will it serve the students of those trainees well?

Keep your eyes peeled about this one… it might work, it might not, but it’s going to be a very interesting experiment one way or another.

Sources:

http://www.ppta.org.nz/index.php/communities/president-page/1880-herald-cone-fasttrack

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10780706

http://www.3news.co.nz/Fast-track-teaching-scheme-to-launch/tabid/423/articleID/240237/Default.aspx

http://teu.ac.nz/2011/04/minister-supports-six-week-teacher-training-course/

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/72703/six-weeks-training-envisaged-for-new-teachers

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10780326

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