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My colleague made a very interesting comment in our meeting today. He said, “There’s a competition between veteran teachers and T.F.A teachers.” I raised my eyebrows and was intrigued by his comment. We had a T.F.A (Teach for America) teacher in the meeting with us. I've never viewed such a competition, but with further discussion, I understood exactly what he meant. There is a division between teachers from traditional teacher preparation programs and those from alternative certification programs, (T.F.A and Troops to Teachers are two examples). I can think of several reasons for this division:
1. There are many businesses and media entities vested in these alternative certification programs. In order to continue building these relationships -- and securing their funding -- they need to justify THEIR teachers as SUPERIOR to veteran teachers.
2. In several schools, Teach for America teachers receive preferential treatment. Traditionally, first year teachers receive the worst assignments. I know of several schools where T.FA teachers receive ‘easier’ schedules and extra planning time, while veteran teachers ‘pick up the slack’.
3. There are various policies, procedures, and paperwork that come standard with T.F.A teachers. If you know any T.F.A teachers, they have a form for EVERYTHING. I know of several cases where T.F.A teachers are viewed as the ‘standard-bearers’ of the staff when it comes to data, forms, and organization. My principal lauded my T.F.A coworker in front of the rest of the staff for making weekly phone calls to parents. However, this teacher had an extra planning period--she has time to make that contact.
4. Veteran teachers often feel like the child who feels left out when the new baby comes along.
5. There is a view that T.F.A teachers view teaching as a ‘public service’ and most have no intention of remaining in the classroom beyond their two-year obligation. Many veteran teachers received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and view education as a career, not simply as a ‘Peace Corps’ stint on the way to the career they ‘REALLY’ want.
While I understand why these divisions exist between veteran teachers and T.F.A teachers, it does not have to be this way. There is room in the classrooms across America for teachers who come from alternative education programs along with traditional education programs. Yes, there are changes that must be made in traditional educator preparation programs. Most of these programs do not provide an accurate depiction of what teachers will see in the classroom. Teach for America and other such programs do a good job of offering support to teachers while they are in the classroom by providing a variety of resources and mentoring programs to help teachers transition into the profession.
In my career in education, I've learned a lot from my Teach for America colleagues. I like the resources they have available; they are the ‘Data Kings/Queens’. That being said, many of the T.F.A teachers I know have serious struggles when it comes to classroom management and managing other realities of the classroom. Instead of pitting veterans against the T.F.A teachers, school administrators would benefit most by focusing on what each does well to maximize capacity of the staff, thus enhancing learning opportunities for the students. It’s not US vs. Them; we’re all in this for the kids.