Teach for America column, illogical, uninformed

While it’s certainly nice to see someone turning a critical eye toward the chic nonprofit Teach For America, a real analysis of TFA would have benefited from better research and sharper logic than Matt Rolland’s curious critique (“”Teach(ers) for America need more training,”” Wednesday).

The fusillades aimed at TFA were numerous, but much of the confusion seemed to stem from Rolland’s misconception (or misrepresentation) of TFA’s modus operandi. While he claims that TFA prizes “”creativity, idealism and lesson plans,”” nothing could be further from the truth.

TFA recognizes that the skills typical of effective leaders – organization, time management, work ethic – are also typical of effective teachers, and it generally shuns those who would eschew such skills for “”creative lesson plans.”” Unfortunately, Rolland doesn’t quote any TFA officials, TFA corps members or TFA alumni, which is a pity – their insights might have corrected his erroneous perception of the organization.

Misunderstandings about TFA are commonplace, but Rolland’s logical errors are perplexing, centering as they do on two (paradoxical) contentions: that TFA’s corps members need more extensive training, and that the obstacles of teaching in underprivileged school districts are too much for even “”the most experienced teachers”” (who presumably received, well, more extensive training). Followed to its logical conclusion, Rolland’s “”solution”” denies the existence of a solution.

As current TFA corps members, we would be the first to admit that the organization grapples with significant structural problems. But the problems have less to do with misplaced idealism or lack of training than a pervasive sense that no amount of idealism or training can close the achievement gap. Here’s to hoping that one day, all columnists will be informed enough to know that this is hardly the case.

Damion LeeNatali
former Wildcat opinions editor
2007 Teach For America member – Denver corps
Stan Molever
former Wildcat columnist
2007 Teach For America member – New York corps

Teachers need more support early on

As I leafed through Wednesday’s edition of the Arizona Daily Wildcat in search of my “”Police Beat”” fix, Matt Rolland’s headline “”Teach(ers) for America need more training”” caught my attention. While there were several points in the article that are demeaning to educators (“” … the greatest threat to education is a surplus of spit balls … “” and “” … each job, even teaching (italics added), requires unique skills … “”), the article does shine a light on an enormous problem confronting education – new-teacher retention. Rolland calls for more training for TFA members, citing a 15 percent dropout rate (for members) during the two-year commitment. Beginning-teacher attrition is not unique to Teach for America; studies show that 24 percent of new teachers leave the profession before the end of their second years, and that by the end of the fifth year, 46 percent have left the profession. It may be true that TFA teachers need more training, but it is clear that all new teachers need more support during their first years in the profession.

Katrina Smits
assistant clinical professor in
teaching and teacher education