I was talking briefly to a 2nd year CM in the hallway between classes, asking him if he was considering staying a third year. He said mostly no, but occasionally he really feels the pull.
He said one thing that really resonated with me, because I have been thinking a lot about it lately. He said, “I’d be more likely to stay if I knew we were going to have several first years next year.”
I teach at a small school, but one that has a long history with Teach For America. TFA has been in Eastern North Carolina since almost the very beginning of the organization and, since that time period, my school has almost always had Corps Members. And yet, despite that impressive track record of TFA placement, there were no second years at this school when I arrived in 2005. I took over the room of a former Corps Member. She had left behind a desk full of supplies (I still use her envelopes to this day) and I just remember thinking how much I wished she was still around to offer advice. There were four ’05s placed at my school that year, one left after the first semester, one did her two years and then left, two of us stayed for three years. In ’06 we got one CM. This year we only got one ’07, she had to leave at the semester due to medical reasons. So next year we are looking at a situation where we may have a whole new crop of first years with no veterans to help them out. That is incredibly depressing to me. It almost feels like everything that has been gained here in the last three years will be wiped clean and a whole new group of CMs will have to start over. And that is if we get any at all. We have been informed (roundaboutly) by our region that because our school is so small it is a low priority in terms of CM placement. The region is interested in expanding heavily into Durham City Schools, which is great, but frustrating for those of us who see ENC as a primarily rural region. I believe that TFA has even said that they don’t plan to open any more rural regions. This is extremely frustrating to me. Think of how much good a TFA Appalachia or a TFA Rural Alabama could do. Just because my kids don’t come from the inner city doesn’t mean that they are not under served. They are. Severely.
I have seen first hand how important it is to place multiple Corps Members at a school together. There is a group of students at our school that had one CM for Civics & Economics, one for English II, one for Biology, me for U.S. History, and then our ’06 CM for English III. Let me tell you, those are some good kids by now. They have been broken and trained and indoctrinated and they are a pleasure to have in a classroom. The “TFA mentality” has been drilled in them by such a strong succession of core teachers that you can really see the effects in their schoolwork and even in their future plans. Sharing students with other TFA teachers helps so much because you are not just “Crazy Ms. So-and-so” who expects unreasonable things, you are part of a trend. On the first day of the semester I often hear, “Oh, this gonna be like Ms. [Biology Teacher]‘s class, ain’t it. We never gonna have no free days in here.”
That is great. That is stupendous. And that is crucial. There is only so much you can do within the four walls of your classroom for one year or one semester. Then you have to hand your babies over. Over to whom?
I don’t know how feasible it is, but I really wish TFA would do more to consider placement depth rather than placement breadth. Instead of expanding into more schools and placing one or two CMs there each year it would be extremely beneficial if TFA would place Corps Members in groups of four or more in schools that already take TFA. The difference it makes in long term student achievement could be telling.