June 20, 2023

Nancy Flanagan: Things that Make Teachers Go Hmmm

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Nancy Flanagan takes a look at the latest recruitment effort from Teach for America. Reposted with permission. 

For flat-out exhausted teachers, finishing a school year filled with unjust accusations and pointless restrictions, the headline must seem ludicrous: Want to Make $100,000 a Year? Here’s Where You Should Apply.

Turns out it’s a charter school in Detroit, and the spiel initially sounds like they’re seeking the best and brightest teachers (at least 18 of them, anyway) with “strong criteria” to “meet student needs.” The strong criteria? They need to be licensed and certified to teach in Michigan, have five years of experience, and have been rated “highly effective” twice.

It also turns out that only 35 percent of the current staff at the Hundred Grand School is, in fact, certified to teach in Michigan. The charter is essentially soliciting, or perhaps poaching is the more accurate term, a more experienced staff by offering them huge salary increases. Because two-thirds of their professional staff is uncertified. No word on whether any of the current teachers would be considered for the $100K.

My first thought? Where are they getting the money?

Closely followed by imagining a scenario where 18 teachers, identified on Day One by their much-fatter paychecks, are parachuted into an existing staff. And– if you think esprit de corps isn’t really a factor in teaching, you would be wrong.

The tight market for high-quality teachers even seems to be leading Teach for America to a rebranding. A few months ago, TFA was shrinking–Oh No!– but now they’re (get this) focused on training new teachers. Really! I’m serious. Twenty years of asserting that in-depth teacher preparation wasn’t really necessary if the person was smart and well-meaning, and now they’re experts in professional preparation?

The organization said it aims to recruit, retain and develop about 700 teachers in Michigan over the next five years. The announcement comes as Michigan, like other states, struggles to retain qualified teachers, particularly in high-poverty schools, and as far fewer college students choose education as a profession. 

Teach for America was always good at recruiting and marketing. But retaining teachers? And professional development?

The chief complaint about TFA has always been that it was most often a two-years (or less) then-out prospect. Something to burnish the resume’ when you seek a grown-up job in a few years. And TFA teachers had to learn on the job. None of this coursework or field experience nonsense. You’re smart—you’ll figure it out. Catch up.

None of the things Teach for America says it can do in this project—which amount to professionalizing teaching—is in Teach for America’s wheelhouse/origin story. Their job (and they’ve been spectacularly good at getting money and good PR to keep this initiative going) has always been promoting a small group of recent graduates who want to do something different (and, presumably, useful). Save our schools, yada yada, by bringing in some elite temps.

But there has never been a critical mass of practicing TFA teachers in the profession to use their hard-won experience to push for necessary policy change. They take other jobs (easier, better-paying jobs) in education because they can. Or they go to law school. Or work at Morgan Chase.

Teach for America has never been a positive force for change in the teaching profession.  What makes them think teachers will turn to them now?

Hmm. Maybe it’s the $35K bonus teachers earn for being part of Teach for American’s new professional development and teacher leadership programs.

I know all about businesses needing to be nimble and pivot quickly when people stop signing up for your prestigious product, but real professional growth for teachers takes time and experience. You can’t manufacture excellence or buy it. It comes from persistence and dedication. That esprit des corps thing matters, too.

Meanwhile: A bill introduced in the state Senate last month would remove provisions in the Revised School Code that say all teachers and staff in the Detroit Public Schools Community District hired after September 2019 must have their compensation based primarily on job performance, rather than seniority or educational credentials. 

Worth noting: Only teachers in Detroit—not in other districts around the state— were subject to this provision. A financial thumb, pressing down on Detroit public educators, tying them and only them to student test scores, built into the school code.

The common link in all these examples? Money.

Money as teacher lure, money paid to an organization founded on undercutting teacher training and preparation, money for improved testing data, but only if you teach in Detroit.

Hmmm. Maybe we should significantly raise teacher pay across the board. Or recruit candidates by promising better working conditions and sweeping investment in public education. One can dream.

In the meantime, a hearty thank-you to teachers everywhere, winding down.

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