I just heard from a young man who attended (West) high school with my two daughters. Benjamin Pacini is now a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore, and he had some interesting thoughts about the National Educational Association’s criticisms of the program. I didn’t want this to get buried in comments, so I’m posting what he has to say here.
“As a 2010 TFA corps member, it’s pretty shocking to see that the unions are officially pitting themselves against TFA.
A bit of background first.
Most of my friends in TFA are liberal. TFA is to liberals as BYU is to mormons–there certainly are conservatives in TFA, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Many of them believe deeply in unions, and are grateful for the protections that are provided to them by their local chapter of the AFL-CIO. Anecdotally, every corps member I know of is a BTU member. Granted, corps members seem more wary of unions than traditional teachers, but few would buy the conservative line that unions are the primary cause of educational stagnation.
Keep in mind, too, that at Baltimore’s “New Teacher Institute” last year, of the thousand or so new teachers, half were TFA, and half were Baltimore City Training Residency (BCTR–another alternative certification program). This left a mere handful of regularly trained teachers out of thousands.
As such, the NEA is picking a political fight with a potential ally. Not only are they in danger of alienating loyal union members, but they are in danger of losing the next generation of teachers in places like Baltimore. Many TFAers are loyal–albeit a bit wary–of unions. But if they begin to feel that unions care more about teachers getting jobs than students getting success, then they’ll drop unions faster than you can say Randi Weingarten.
It’s important to note, though, that it was the NEA, not the AFT, that passed the resolution. NEA is based more strongly in rural and suburban districts–not in urban places like Baltimore, Chicago, or LA, where TFA teachers are needed.
Why is the NEA responding this way? People don’t like TFA for two reasons: because they compete for the same jobs that regular educators compete for, and because they don’t feel like an untrained, bright-eyed, “two-years-only” idealist can do much good.
Competition is rough, but most Americans face it every day. Most TFAers are excited for the chance to try to stand out, although they want to ensure that teachers are treated fairly and that teacher evaluation systems need to be designed carefully.
As to the second point, as a former mormon missionary I suppose I’m a bit biased. I think that two-year, untrained, bright-eyed idealists can do far more than people give them credit.”