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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: A New Low for TFA: Some Trainees Only Get About 11 Hours of Student Teaching.

Teach For America’s teacher training has always been the weakest spot of an organization that has no shortage of weak spots.

Ask any teacher what the most useful part of their training was and they will tell you that it was their student teaching experience. You can read about and discuss the theory of teaching and about how what students do and don’t respond to, but until you are standing in front of an actual class, it is all just theory.

Back in the early 1990s when TFA was a new organization, they had the sense to know the value of student teaching so in the seven weeks of training, they tried to make it so each teacher got to do five weeks of student teaching for three hours a day, a total of 75 hours of student teaching. Yes, this wasn’t enough, but it was at least a good faith effort to maximize the institute time.

When TFA nearly ran out of money in the mid 1990s they moved the institute from Los Angeles to Houston. In Los Angeles there was year round schooling so there were many opportunities to do student teaching in an actual school. But in Houston all they could do is the limited enrollment summer schools. The institute was shortened, I think to five weeks, so there were just four weeks of student teaching. To make matters worse, there were so few students at these summer schools that instead of trainees getting their own class, you would have four teachers teaching a class, sometimes of about 12 students. Each corps member would get only one fourth of the time to be the ‘lead teacher’ so the number of hours as lead teacher was reduced from 75 in the early 1990s to then about 15 hours (4 weeks=20 days, 20 days * 3 hours = 60 hours, 60 hours / 4 = 15 hours). And this is how it was from about 1994 until 2019, so for 25 years. I was annoyed by this reduction of student teaching and spoke up about this a lot over the years.

But according to a new article in Education Week called Once a Big Player, Teach For America Tries to Regain Its Footing, the student teaching in some regions has been reduced from 4 weeks to 3 weeks. So for teachers that have 3 weeks, they likely only get 11.25 hours of in-person student teaching.

From the article:

And the organization has adjusted its training and onboarding process. TFA spokesperson Natalie Laukitis said in an email that corps members now receive three weeks of virtual training focused on teaching content, classroom management, and how to create an equitable and inclusive learning environment. Then, corps members undergo at least three weeks of practicum, in which they work directly with students under the supervision of a TFA employee.

Also ironic that TFA has adopted a hybrid training model where three weeks of the institute is done virtually. Especially with all the ‘learning loss’ hysteria as a result of pandemic remote school, you would think that TFA would want to avoid virtual training as much as possible.

When TFA corps members only get 11.25 hours of student teaching, their chances of being effective teachers is quite low. And when a corps member is an ineffective teacher, there are two main categories of people who suffer. The students of that corps members are complete innocent bystanders in this dynamic. They have to suffer through a teacher who does not know how to properly manage a class. But the other one who suffers is the TFA corps member themselves. They are the ones who will go through the trauma and the guilt of failure and the regret of trusting that TFA cared enough about them and about their students to at least attempt to help them prepare to be in charge of the learning for dozens, if not hundreds, of children.

One thing I wonder is if TFA is not, in some way, violating the contracts they signed with school districts who they provide corps members. In some of those district, they pay TFA a hefty finders fee for the privilege of hiring untrained teachers who only have about an 80% chance of making it through the first year and a much lower chance of having a positive impact on their students.


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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...