Ten Years of TFA in Memphis

The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported on the 10 year anniversary of Teach for America in Memphis. It was fascinating to see how the demographics of TFA Memphis has changed for the better over the last 10 years. What started out as mostly White teachers from outside Memphis has turned into a corps with more teachers of color and more teachers from Memphis.

“There were five people of color in the entire corps,” Turner, a member of that first local group, said. “Nobody from Memphis. In fact I think I might have been the only one in the corps who preferred to come to Memphis.”

This year’s incoming cohort has 138 teachers. A quarter are from Memphis. More than half are people of color, and half come from low-income backgrounds.

The demographic shift is intentional, Turner said, and indicative of the efforts TFA, and particularly the Memphis office, has made to respond to the needs of communities and critics of the organization’s work. The office added a local recruitment team that netted 24 corps members this year.

Compared to 10 years ago, more TFA teachers are staying in Memphis and many of those are still teaching.

I believe that TFA is a great way for mid-career professionals to come into the teaching profession with a great support network. Those support networks are not in place in some teaching colleges in Tennessee that offer transitional teaching programs.

Of the first cohort 10 years ago, 25 percent of the teachers remained in Memphis after their two-year commitment. The cohort that just wrapped its second year in schools this spring has 70 percent staying locally. Of those who are staying, 90 percent are still teaching, Turner said.

Corps members are also no longer nearly exclusively just out of college. Ten years ago, all but six were recruited their senior year of college. This year, 38 percent are just like Cassell — mid-career professionals looking for a change.

The 33-year-old former accountant came from an education nonprofit in New York City, passing up other big cities with TFA in favor of Memphis where she thought she could make the most difference. She also hopes to add an international flair — her family fled civil war in Liberia for the United States in 1991.

What’s great is that there are 250 TFA alumni in Memphis currently teaching and another 150 TFA alumni are still living and working in Memphis after their TFA time.

According to the Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs, Teach for America Memphis teachers were better than beginning teachers in 4th-8th grade TCAP composite, science, and social studies and on the high school End of Course exam composite, Algebra I, and biology exams. The same group of teachers also struggled in reading and math compared to other teachers statewide.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

Teachers Aren’t Dumb. Their Training May Be.

Daniel Willingham has a great piece in the New York Times today that discusses the notion that teachers are dumb. Of course they are not dumb! They just may have not been trained properly. This is totally true when it comes to reading:

Consider reading. In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”

 

It could be that the professors don’t know it as well.

Of greater concern, those who educate future teachers don’t know them either. Emily Binks-Cantrell of Texas A&M University and her colleagues tested 66 professors of reading instruction for their knowledge of literacy concepts. When asked to identify the number of phonemes in a word, they were correct 62 percent of the time. They struggled more with morphemes, correctly identifying them 27 percent of the time.

Willingham makes the point that it is hard to evaluate the teachers on test scores of students when the teachers are not properly trained in the first place. They have been left in the dark. Let’s not leave our future teachers in the dark. Let’s get to work improving our teacher prep programs.

Much of what makes a teacher great is hard to teach, but some methods of classroom instruction have been scientifically tested and validated. Teachers who don’t know these methods are not stupid; they’ve been left in the dark.