Nearly six years ago—during my college’s first year orientation—I set my sights on becoming an elementary school teacher. Five years ago, I attended a Teach For America (TFA) info session at my college’s library. Many people encouraged me to apply, and (at a time when getting a job is anything but guaranteed) it was tempting. My East Coast liberal arts school is a sort of powerhouse for TFA. Between 40-60 of my class’ 500 graduates went on to TFA. As a comparison, six of us graduated as credentialed K-12 teachers.
Three years ago, I wrote “Why I Won’t Teach For America”. As I complete my second year of teaching (aka the length of a TFA commitment), I firmly stand by that decision for both political and personal reasons. From my personal perspective, here’s why:
I was properly trained to teach.
Had I done TFA, I would have had five weeks of training. Instead, I had literally years. Under the guidance of a master teacher, I experienced it all. If something went wrong or I didn’t know how to respond to a situation, I had people to help me. I studying education theory and pedagogy and learned material I still use every day.
I had a strong first year.
The TFA teachers I know often say things like, “My first year was horrible, but that’s just how it is!” TFA pushes the myth that a teacher’s first year necessarily is rough. In this assumption it is implicit but ignored that the students of these first year teachers are experimented on and get a sub-par education.
Even for credentialed teachers, the first year is challenging and new. But even with that, I loved my first year. I felt prepared, had an amazing class, and was finally doing what I loved. I know I am a better teacher now than I was then, but I also believe that I gave my first students a quality education. This is not because I am inherently “better” than those who teach through TFA, but because I was given the proper training and experiences prior to having my first class.
I teach in and am dedicated to my community.
TFA has applicants rank a number of locations, and the teachers I know got placed all over the United States. Two years after their placements, many are moving back to where they are from or to where they desire to live.
I teach at a school very similar in demographics to those where TFA teachers are placed: 85%+ minority, 80%+ free or reduced lunch, majority ELL. I also teach 10 minutes from where I was born. I foresee myself saving up to buy a house and raising my family in the town. I have connections to the community, and am personally invested in its long-term strength. I feel fortunate that, after two years of teaching, I am already established in the town and not looking for a transfer.
I am a public school teacher.
Had I done TFA, I would have likely ended up in a charter school. TFA has a very close relationship with the privatization movement. In LA, 90% of TFA teachers are placed in charters. I am proud to be working in a school that is making huge gains with an “underserved” population AND is fully public. For so many reasons (way more than can fit in this post!), I am a supporter of public education.
I am a member of my school’s community, not of a “corps.”
When I entered my school at 22 years old, I was by far the youngest teacher. But I was also just that: a teacher. I quickly bonded with the other teachers, many of whom have 10 or 20+ years experience. TFA teachers often say they are “doing TFA” rather than “teaching.” Amongst the TFA teachers I know, there is close camaraderie within the corps members. They live together, party together, and support each other. While this is likely necessary because many of them are placed far from home without any support system, I feel fortunate to be a part of my school’s community, and not an organization.
Teaching is sustainable for me.
Teachers work hard.
Many TFA teachers speak of the burnout they experience. I believe the organization does this purposely: if you are only getting two years out of your teachers, you might as well work them until they can’t do it any more. Every teacher I know—student teacher, career teacher, TFA teacher—gives 110% of herself mentally and emotionally. There are countless long nights and draining days. But at the same time, I know I want to stay in teaching, and I am not doing myself or my current or future students any favors by giving up my sleep and personal life. Moreover, my colleagues are people who are balancing work and personal life (often including kids and other obligations) very well, not other sleepless 24 year olds.
I am not leaving teaching now (or likely ever!).
I know for a fact I will teach next year. While we can’t predict the future, my long-term goal is to stay a classroom teacher. This shapes so much of what I do: I have invested literally thousands of dollars into my classroom and my library, I eagerly attend professional development workshops, I reflect on my practices and preserve my best lessons, and I forge strong relationships with families in the hopes that I will someday teach their children. I firmly believe all of this makes me a better and happier teacher.
The second year TFA teachers I know are taking many different paths. A few are staying in the classroom. Many are getting recruited out of their current placement by charter chains or by TFA itself. Others are going on to graduate school or, yes, to banking.
While there is a lot of dispute over TFA’s retention rate, many state that about 50% leave after two years and 80% after three years. I could not imagine what my second year of teaching would be like if I was planning on packing it all up and moving on to my next professional adventure come June.
One of my largest critiques of TFA is that it focuses on the experiences of the teachers over that of students, and I realize I have done just that here. Still, after two years of teaching, I firmly believe that NOT “Teaching for America” was the best move for me professionally, and certainly was the best service to TFA’s supposed mission that, “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
Last week, I posted about my students’ PBL (Project Based Learning) project. A big part of it that I didn’t include (forgot to take pictures!) was the brochures my students made about their inventions.
This was my first time having students make detailed brochures as part of their final project, and I loved it! They were able to really show what they know and it wasn’t too time consuming. The brochures also integrated writing and vocabulary into science. I made tons of copies, and at the presentation, groups offered visitors the brochures. I am glad that parents and other adults had something tangible to take home from the presentation.
For our current PBL unit, students have been learning about electricity and magnetism. For their final project, students used what they know to create their own inventions. I was worried they wouldn’t come up with anything, but I was wrong! They used circuits, buzzers, lights and electromagnets to make all sorts of cool things. Each group made a brochure explaining the science in their invention. We then watched clips from “Shark Tank” and kids came up with their own pitches.
Today, family, friends, the principal and other students visited the “Invention Convention.” I was totally blown away. My kids were confident, enthusiastic and really knew their stuff. Every who came was so positive.
Today was one of those amazing teaching days. (Also, I love PBL!)
My co-4th grade teacher is one of my favorite people ever. This is her first full year teaching (she did a long term sub gig last year), and she’s amazing. She’s great with her students and works so hard. We make each other better teachers and are great friends. We are two of the only young teachers on campus, and lots of people refer to us as the “Dream Team.”
My principal wants to keep her next year. Families want to keep her. I definitely want to keep her!
After school today I have to sit through 4 teacher interviews for her position. She was hired as temporary, so inner-district transfers have seniority over her and can come take her job.
I am a supporter of unions and contracts and theoretically understand this, but it’s not an easy day.
I was always that kid with a messy desk, but I do have certain expectations about the insides of students’ desks. I try to teach my students to treat their work with respect and to learn basic organizational skills. These habits help them when they get older, and they also make for a smoother classroom: kids can quickly find what they need, and if I need to go into their desks to pull work samples, I can also find things.
My hands-down favorite organizational tool is the desk “buckets”, which I posted about a while ago here.
But this year, I have one student with very severe ADHD who really struggles with his desk. I swear it’s a “Black Hole”: things go in there, and he never finds them again. I was getting frustrated with him being unable to do assignments he lost and destroying classroom books by shoving them inside. He cleaned it once a week, but that wasn’t working.
So I got some packaging tape and “closed” it down. His bucket sits beside his desk. Three weeks later, his bucket is still organized. I offered him his desk back, but he says he’d rather keep it closed for a while. He likes having a clean desk.
I’ve been getting bullied by a few teachers for about a year now. They’re disliked by most everyone, but pretty “powerful.” I don’t want to go into specifics here, but I ended up going into the principal’s office crying today, which I know will only come back to haunt me.
Why are the adults in schools worse than children?
I don’t think most people know what teachers actually do all day. When I decided to become a teacher, I wasn’t sure how elementary teachers divided up that 6- or 7-hour block. I’m still always so interested in what other teachers do because it varies so much by school, grade, and teacher. I wish I could go visit every teacher on Tumblr, but I don’t think that’s an option!
So here’s how my class spent our day. It was a very typical day: nothing too exciting, not the best lessons I’ve ever done, but lots of learning happened. The kind of day I wouldn’t normally post about, but very representative of what we do.
My Class: I teach 4th grade at a pretty traditional Title 1 public school in Northern California. I have 24 students: 12 girls and 12 boys, 4 IEPs, 1 504, and 1 student on the spectrum with a full-time aide. Almost all of my students are current or reclassified English Learners.
7am: Get to school
I arrived at school (leave my place at 6:10), got some copies and organizing done, then some early-arrivers showed up and did work around 7:40.
7:58am: School Begins
I walked the students up to the classroom. They hung their backpacks up, I greeted them at the door, and they sat down and took out a book (I’m all about sneaking in that reading time!).
8:05am: Morning Meeting
I wrote a lot about our Morning Meeting routine here. We read our message, did the word of the day, and then a student led sharing.
8:20am: “What’s In Your Suitcase?
We are learning about inferring, so my kids played one of their favorite games: a student secretly thinks of a place he or she would like to go, tells us what’s in his or her suitcase, and then everyone guesses where that student is going based on clues and schema.
Students wrote summaries of their choice books. If they finished their final paragraphs, they decorated the “cover” of their books.
9:00am: Read Aloud
As part of our study of inference (and because I love the author), we have been doing an author study of Chris Van Allsburg. I read The Sweetest Fig then students went back to their desks and recorded their inferences. After everyone wrote their inferences, we came back together in a circle and had “Room 3 Book Club” in which students discussed their inferences.
9:40am: Reading Workshop
I wrote in detail about my reading beliefs here. Students chose their “Just Right Books” and read for 30 minutes. We then got together in a circle and did a “Book Pass”: students pass their books slowly around the circle so other students can get ideas of books they might want to read.
Recess duty. Nobody got hurt, and only a few kids cried over Wall Ball.
Our school has a “Multiplication-a-Thon” in a week. Students practiced by answering 100 problems in 5 minutes. It has taken a very long time to get them to a point where most of them can do this. After they take their tests, I read out answers, they corrected their own, and I handed out differentiated homework.
We normally do math during this time, but the librarian asked if we could come to library early. Of course, once we got there we had to wait 10 minutes in line outside for the Kinders to finish up.
Sat with three teachers in the sun. 75 degrees. I love California.
12:30pm: “TIG” Time (aka English Learning Time)
We break up kids by their English Level, so I get a mixed group of Beginner to Intermediate EL kids. Right now, we are using “Words Their Way” to learn spelling words and patterns.
1:00pm: PBL (Project Based Learning)
Our current PBL unit is “Electricity and Magnetism.” Students were given the challenge to build a magnet they could turn on and off and which could move small washers. They were allowed to use any of the equipment we had. We held a contest to see which group could pick up the most washers. Afterwards, I taught them about “electromagnetism”.
2:00pm: Big Clean Up
Every student has a job, and they do a great job independently cleaning the classroom.
We filled out homework planner, and students shared out their “Joy” of the day.
2:20pm: Students “Go Home”
Students were formally dismissed. I struggled for a while to figure out a good routine. Now, we sing “G-double O-D-B-Y-E Goodbye Goodbye. G-double O-D-B-Y-E Goodbye Goodbye. A-D-I-O-S, Adios, Adios. A-D-I-O-S, Adios, Adios.”
After school, I had about 6 stragglers who stayed and did homework in the classroom. I met with other teachers, cleaned up the classroom, and organized things for the following day. I left at 4 to go get some cavities filled, then went to the Middle School basketball championship and finally got home at 8:30pm.
I would love to hear how other teachers spend their days!
Today I took a few of my current and former students on a weekend field trip and dropped them all of at their “homes.” A family of four kids is living in a very run-down garage where they don’t even have a refrigerator to chill milk for the baby. A student from last year I’m very close to is now in a homeless shelter. I have so many thoughts about this, but I don’t know where to start. I guess my overwhelming feeling is that I love these children very much, and it’s hard to see people I love struggle.
In California public schools, 2014 is a very unique year. Because we are moving towards adopting Common Core State Standards next year, the state decided that we will not take our old standardized test, the CST, this year. Students will sit for a computerized version of the CCSS Smarter Balance test to “test out the test,” but no individual or school data will be released. In my school, this means…
Last year was my first year teaching. The pressure on students, teachers, and administrators to do well on the CST was incredible. My school is traditionally low-performing and has been classified as “Program Improvement” for a number of years, which means a lot is on the line if we don’t do well on tests. Though my job evaluations isn’t formally tied to my students’ performance, it was very clear that how they did would reflect me as a teacher. Practically the whole year, but especially January onward, was focused on preparing students for the test. We lost a lot of instruction time to practice tests and teaching testing technique. Students as young as 7 felt the same pressure as teachers: that how they did on the test reflected how “valuable” they are as students. On the day of the test, students were visibly nervous. One student cried for three hours as he scratched all the yellow off of his #2 pencil. I was told I was not allowed to let him stop testing.
This year is a completely different experience. This time last year, we were busy with the final push of test prep. This year, we are busy creating complex projects where students can utilize and display their knowledge. We know our year goes until June and not just until test day, so we don’t have to cram knowledge like we did last year. Students seem more excited about school: both because the work is actually thought-provoking, and because they aren’t just learning in order to improve their test scores. If anything, teachers are working harder, not less: they too are motivated by the freedom.
And the bottom line is…students are still learning. If anything, they are learning more. Politicians and the public believe that we need to test kids to hold teachers “accountable.” That if there were no tests, students would sit around all day doing who knows what. From my experience, that just isn’t the case.
The vast majority of teachers want what is best for their students, and will work hard to make learning a dynamic experience. If anything, testing made teachers lazier: it honestly is not that difficult to teach test-taking strategies. Copy worksheets and passages, hand out pencils, lead students through finding “trickster” and “stinker” options, and you’re golden. By freeing teachers from this routine, I believe you get much higher-quality instruction. I believe in teachers.
Of course, this year also carries a sense of impending doom. Our test-free window will end on the first day of school next year. By next April, students and teachers will again be facing the high pressure of standardized testing. Within a few years, teachers and administrators will have mastered how to teach to this new test, and we will return to our old routines.
I wish policy makers would really reflect on this year in California. Come visit our schools and talk to our students and teachers. See the effects of not testing our kids. Use this year as an example of what is possible when we do away with high-stakes testing.
I have an ever-growing classroom library, and I am constantly on the lookout for new books. The kids see the library as ours. My students do not generally have many (or any) books at home, and they are allowed to borrow classroom books at will. I’ve written about purchasing books here, and about how I organize my library here.
I’m sure my classroom is like most classrooms…there is never enough time during the day to accomplish everything we need to do. Many teachers cut out independent reading time to fit in more test prep or scripted programs. However, I ensure that my students get at least 20 minutes (and sometimes upward of 45 minutes) of independent reading time a day. I also teach them to fill in any extra minutes with reading. They pull out a book as soon as they enter the classroom. I don’t give “early finisher” filler worksheets…instead, students read. Students keep books right by their desks so they have easy access at all times.
While students need a lot of time to read by themselves, they also need to be taught best reading practices. I use a modified version of "The Cafe Book" and the CAFE wall to teach how good readers read.
I use read alouds to model and practice reading skills, and then have students independently practice these skills during Reading Workshop and even our Writing block.
For example, I taught about summarizing by first modeling the skill, then having students practice as a group as we read aloud, then having students practice using their independent reading books, and finally each student wrote their own summary paragraph of a chosen book.
I’m proud to say that my students love to read. They look forward to reading every day, and read a lot independently. I believe this is because I treat reading as an enjoyable activity, not a chore. I act excited to show them new books I’ve acquired and read aloud books. I encourage them to share favorite books with each other.
This post will totally self-destruct, but just found out my 4th graders who started the year at an average reading level of 2nd grade, 7 months are now reading at an average of 4th grade, 5 months. Only one month away from being on grade level!
I could tell from reading with them that they have improved tremendously, and they are so much more into reading. Most of them came in hating reading, and now they can’t get enough of it. That’s the important thing, but sometimes it’s a relief to have numbers back up what I know inside.
1,000 Followers! When I started this Tumblr, I thought of it as a place to record my own thoughts. I never set out to have followers, and never imagined having even 10.
That said, I feel so fortunate to be part of this Tumblr Education community. I know I’ve become a better teacher through reading others’ posts and reflecting on my own practices, and hope I’ve helped others, too.
If anyone ever has a question or wants to know more, please feel free to message me!
We have been studying geometry. As a final project review, students found all the geometry in their names. It was a great way for them to review concepts and vocabulary and connect an academic concept to things they see around them, and they loved the activity because it was about them.
I hung them on the sides of their desks because we’ve run out of wall space!
I don’t want anyone to mistake my views, I post on this a lot because I care a lot, I’ve been caring what other people think a lot instead of standing firm, and I’m going to post this as a declaration- I am against Teach For America and actively working to bring it down.
I don’t care that there…
This is a great explanation, and I agree 100%. I hope other teachers (Tumblr and otherwise) keep resisting.