Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Making Room for Hope: Granito de Arena

"As teachers we have a moral, political, and social obligation to try to change things."

I was reminded today as I was reading an  essay by Scott Russell Sanders in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear that it is important to "make room for hope." Here is my "hope" for today: Granito de Arena, a documentary directed by Jill Friedberg, Corrugated Films.

"What happens to a teacher in the United States, can happen to a teacher in Canada, or to a teacher in Mexico....If we are all confronting the same monster, a monster with many different heads, then we all have to flow together into the same river." 

Granito de Arena (Grain of Sands) documents the 25-year struggle of school teachers in Mexico and highlights the state of education pre- and post-NAFTA. It explores the fundamental role of education from a perspective similar to that of Paulo Freire and bell hooks--education as transformation as opposed to education as a means of producing human capital.
"This is a system that breaks everything it touches into little pieces, and which teaches us that life is about having, and life is about working, instead of life being about being."

"Everything is subject to the market, and education is no exception. You're going to have the very best education for the rich kids and what's left over for the rest."

Sound familiar?

The TFA Debate Continues

Core Knowledge Blogger Robert Pondiscio, writes A Memo To Wendy Kopp. He says:
Our toughest schools are no place for rookies, even well-educated, data-driven rookies. Being a first year teacher in a tough school makes for great memoirs, but all the good intentions and Ivy League degrees under the sun don’t make you a great teacher. We’re certainly not going to turn around thousands of underperforming schools on the backs of 22-year olds....
He suggests:
Place them in that high-functioning school for two years as pinch-hitters for some of our best, most experienced teachers, and send those master teachers to the same schools to which you’re sending TFA corps members now. We can call it the Teach For America Fellowship, and throw in a nice extra chunk of change to incentivize those master teachers without worrying about whether it’s merit pay.
It is a rare person who has what it takes to excel as a teacher in a low-income community, and it’s not at all a given that teachers who do well in more privileged communities will do well in urban and rural areas.
True. But this doesn't mean that the most inexperienced privileged teachers with do-gooder attitudes will be any better.
The most important thing for kids in low-income communities is that we recruit as many people as possible — whether new or experienced — who have the personal characteristics that differentiate successful teachers in high-poverty communities, and that we train and support them to be effective in meeting the extra needs of their students.
I doubt the same argument would work if you substituted "high income" and tried to advocate for putting inexperienced teachers in our "best" schools. And do TFAers really get the chance to fully develop these "personal characteristics" in order to meet the extra needs of students within their two year terms?
Teach For America is building a pipeline of leaders who are deeply committed to educational equity and deeply understand what it will take to ensure that children in low-income communities have the educational opportunities they deserve. Their initial teaching experience in under-resourced communities is foundational to their lifelong commitment to effecting the systemic changes necessary to ensure educational opportunity for all.
Studies show that most TFAers leave the classroom after two to three years. What about building a pipeline of teachers that will ensure educational opportunity for all? 

In terms of teacher development and accreditation, Wize suggests:
...a “teaching team strategy,” that gives only experienced teachers primary student responsibility, but in multiple classrooms and with the assistance of the novices. Senior teachers, appropriately compensated, lead instructional teams of other teachers, novices, and untrained personnel....
In an ideal world, all new teachers would receive their capstone preparation and induction in a professional development school or an urban residency program.
In an ideal world, all new teachers would receive their capstone preparation and induction in a professional development school or an urban residency program.
He cites NYC Teaching Fellows as an intermediate step--as its fellows must be enrolled in a Master's program in teaching and learning.

Teaching isn't community service. Teaching, like any other career, takes time to master. While TFA achieves its goal in filling the teacher shortage in urban and rural districts---shouldn't we be looking for more long-term solutions to the problem?

Wize says: 
Of course, every experienced teacher was once a novice, so not every student can have an experienced instructor. But there is almost universal agreement on the value of teacher experience, and research indicates a multiplier effect on students’ performance when they are taught by ineffective teachers over multiyear periods.
When will we decide to give our nation's poorest children the education that all children deserve?