Summary of the SOS Conference in WA DC

Hi all, I recently spoke on a panel about TFA at the Save Our Schools Conferencea nd March in Washington DC. Specifically, our panel was focused on TFA teacher training and how the program needs to change/improve…although most of us on the panel felt like ideally the program should just disappear – but of course it’s not that productive to come out and say that since they’re such hot shit right now in so many ‘education reform’ circles, etc. It was a great experience and we received a lot of positive feedback from the people who attended (standing room only!). I was expecting more negative pushback from the audience to be honest, as I figured TFA would send in a bunch of supporters as conference plants to try and dis-credit or challenge us during our presentation, but that didn’t materialize.

On the panel was myself, another ex-TFA Corps member (who quit for very different reasons than myself), a long-time veteran teacher who now trains TFA Corps members and other new teachers through Fordham University, Dr. Barbara Torre-Veltri (who I have mentioned on this site before) who has taught extensively, mentored TFA members and is now a professor of education at Northern Arizona University and who wrote a great book “Learning on Other People’s Kids” about the issues with TFA, a veteran teacher in NYC who has taught English for over 50 years and a lawyer who is currently fighting to prevent un-certified, un-qualified teachers (e.g. TFA Corps members) from being able to teach in classrooms (more on this later). As a panel, we really hit the issues from a variety of angles and presented a very compelling case (in my opinion of course). I spoke primarily about my awful Corps members experience and how I felt TFA could improve their Institute training – e.g. more child development/behavior management training, bring in experienced educators who have more than three years of teaching experience, set up a system where Corps members will actually teach during the year in the subject area/grade level they are trained for during Institute, etc. The other ex-Corps member spoke a lot about why he quit TFA and talked some about the possibility of TFA adding a third year to their commitment (e.g. a kind of urban residency type year), the mentor of TFA teachers at Fordham as well as the 50+ years of teaching experience veteran teacher spoke about what is needed to train teachers well and Dr. Veltri spoke primarily about the problems of having under-prepared TFA teachers teaching special education in particular and recounted many of the issues she saw with the program in her years mentoring and speaking with TFA Corps members.

Hearing what John Affeldt – the lawyer – had to say was also very interesting as he is currently on the battlegrounds of the legal system trying to get the government to uphold one of the provisions of No Child Left Behind – which was that every teacher must be “Highly Qualified” to teach in a classroom (e.g. certified the proper way, etc.). TFA and other political forces recently snuck in a provision to a bill stating that “Highly Qualified” could actually mean “on track towards getting certification” while still being allowed to be the teacher of record in classrooms. Hence, the TFA show can go on!

Even if Mr. Affeldt can’t get states to prevent these un-certified teachers from teaching in classrooms, or at the least he wants schools in all states to be required to notify parents if their child is being taught by an under-qualified teacher and also wants those under-qualified teachers to be equitably distributed across all the districts in the state – so essentially that would mean that programs like TFA couldn’t just dump their under-qualified teachers in all the schools with poor kids like they do now (and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, no rich, white, suburban parent is going to want their child to be taught by an un-certified teacher who is likely teaching a subject/grade level they’ve never taught before, etc). So this an on-going legal battle that I’ll be following closely.

Some of the people who came to the conference included Taylor Mali (he does that amazingly inspirational spoken word poem about teachers) – I’ve since emailed him and he came into the conference very pro-TFA and is re-thinking his stance after listening to our presentation and attending the conference as a whole, Matt Damon (not at our panel but apparently he was at the march), Dr. Diane Ravitch (one of the keynote speakers), Johnathan Kozol (another key note speaker) and many more.

Our presentation was capped off with a “comment” from a student who came in near the end of our presentation and had grown up being educated in the New Orleans school district (which has essentially been taken over post-Katrina by charter schools and loads of young, in-experienced, mostly white, underprepared teachers including a lot of TFA Corps members) who gave a spoken word type speech about awful TFA was, how it was destroying schools in New Orleans while creating a revolving door of rich, mostly white, privileged, under-trained teachers who rarely stay in teaching for more than a few years and who know nothing about the New Orleans culture, etc. – during his speech, he compared TFA to a pack of cigarettes and to a weed that must be killed and absolutely went off in a borderline rage on the entire organization. He was angrier than any of us on the panel about the impact of TFA largely because of his personal experience being taught by TFA teachers most of his life. Needless to say, it was a dramatic and powerful end to our panel presentation.

More updates/thoughts about the conference will be forthcoming soon!!!

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About jasherwilliamson

Hi my name is John Williamson. I'm currently working as a Classroom Coach with a non-profit called College Forward in Austin, TX. Our goal is to get high school students (primarily ones from low-income and first generation backgrounds) into and through college. Originally, I'm from Washington state (Seattle-area) and I went to school at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. Drop me a line if you want to know anything else about me... Peace and love,
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One Response to Summary of the SOS Conference in WA DC

  1. deevilko says:

    Hi John I’m currently looking into accepting a job offer with College Forward but it’s hard to find real stories about people’s experiences with that AmeriCorps program. I did TfA too, and thankfully got out before losing my mind permanently. I received offers from both College Forward and 4H Capital, after my experiences with TfA, I don’t want to make the same mistakes so I wanted to ask for some really honest feedback about the program.

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