Rethinking the California Teacher Shortage

Another year passes where California schools and districts scrambled to recruit enough teachers to fill hundreds of empty classrooms for the 2015-2016 school year. As California lawmakers have ignored the teacher shortage for nearly a decade, educational stakeholders need to rethink how they conceive of the teaching profession; otherwise, hundreds to thousands of California classrooms will soon be without teachers.

It is important to understand a few things that make the teaching profession different from other careers with similar entry requirements. First and foremost, teachers are government employees, which historically means they earn less money than private sector employees with similar education levels. This suggests that current and future teachers are not in the profession for money. Many choose to teach for other reasons such as the desire to work with kids, flexibility during the summer months and job security.

Additionally, new research suggests that the teacher labor supply is highly localized. This means that most teachers prefer to teach close to where they went to school or teach a similar demographic of students. The implication is that high poverty and rural schools struggle to recruit teachers, because on a large scale, they are not producing high numbers of students who become teachers, let alone attend or graduate from college. These facts alone make the teacher shortage even more difficult to address. Yet, the attention given to statewide recruitment efforts to solve the crisis has been lackluster at best.

Unfortunately, less individuals are interested in teaching in California schools. From 2008 to 2015, the enrollment in California’s teacher credentialing programs dropped by over 50% according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Pair this with new accountability standards with Common Core and the aging workforce, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning estimates that California will need to recruit over 100,000 teachers to keep pace over the next decade.

If teacher shortage has been a problem for a while, why has the California legislature yet to pass a single law in the last decade making the teaching profession more appealing? The answer is that California lawmakers have made clear that making the teaching profession easier to get into is preferable to raising incentives for becoming a teacher in the first place.

For example, the California Department of Education has allowed nearly a dozen different pathways into the teaching profession. From emergency permits to teaching “internships,” people who desire to pursue teaching no longer have to fulfill the student teaching and course requirements to begin teaching. Instead, alternative licensure programs such as Teach For America (TFA) allow these individuals to immediately begin teaching students while simultaneously taking courses that illustrate best teaching practices.

Regardless of one’s opinion on TFA or other alternative programs, the fact remains that these programs are not designed to be a long-term solution for the teacher shortage. Instead, they are a temporary means of providing seemingly qualified individuals to lead otherwise empty classrooms. However as long as schools are able to fill these empty classrooms before the first day of school, regardless of the qualifications of the teacher, pressure on lawmakers is eased until the following year when the crisis resurfaces once again.

The crux of the issue is that over 50% of teachers permanently leave the teaching profession after just five years in the classroom. Under certain licensure categories such as the temporary license permit in California, the statistic changes to 70% of teachers leaving after two years and 80% of teachers leaving after three years.

As we economists say, the teacher shortage in California is a direct result of a dysfunctional labor supply. In other words, people who should become teachers are choosing to pursue other careers, and the people taking their place are not the right candidates for this very difficult, yet respectable career. If California wants to fix its teacher shortage, lawmakers need to consider comprehensive teacher reform that changes who is applying to become a teacher.

As more teachers retire or otherwise permanently leave the profession, pressure should be placed on lawmakers to reform the current credentialing system and make teaching more desirable for recent college graduates. By resorting to the lowering of standards and qualifications, we only devalue teaching as a long-term career option and increase dissatisfaction for those who are currently making an impact in the classroom.

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Teach For America: Appealing to the Savior Complex

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Image from thehiggsweldon.com

This post originally appeared in the Catalyst Newspaper on February 20, 2015

“One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain a great education.” Teach For America’s Mission Statement.

By now, a majority of seniors at Colorado College have received an email from Teach For America, asking them to interview with a recruiter on campus. Colorado College remains one of the top contributors to TFA, as it is listed in the top 20 small colleges from 2011-2013. Proportionately speaking, small liberal arts colleges contribute the greatest amount of TFA Corps Members, and much of this has to do with the appeal that TFA has on this demographic. I beg the question to every CC student who is thinking about joining the Teach For America organization: What is your motivation for joining TFA and, by nature, the teaching profession? A quick review of the negative effects of TFA is necessary before addressing its unique appeal to CC students.

Perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject, carried out by Stanford University’s Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2005), found that TFA Corps Members perform worse than certified teachers and perform similarly to uncertified teachers in the classroom. Heilig and Jez (2014) find that 80 percent of TFA teachers leave the classroom permanently after three years, adding to the already high levels of turnover in low-income schools. Not only does TFA negatively impact student achievement, but in 2014, Newark Public Schools laid off 700 experienced, certified teachers to replace with new hires, a majority of which came from Teach For America.

Essentially over the last decade, TFA Corps Members have shown to be less effective than their certified counterparts, controlling for variables such as socioeconomic status, and leave the profession before noticeable improvement. The result is that the urban, low-income schools for which TFA provides teachers see higher turnover and lower achievement than if they had invested in more qualified, certified teachers.

TFA recruits well-educated, privileged college graduates (many of whom did not major in education) to commit to two years of teaching in these high-risk schools. With little to no educational background, Corps Members endure a five-week teaching boot camp, where TFA prepares them to have an “immediate positive impact on their students.” Darling-Hammond points out that statistically teachers do not have a positive impact on students until their third year in the classroom, by which point most Corps members have left the profession.

Returning to the question regarding the motivation to join the TFA organization, current research (Straubhaar & Gottfried, 2014) suggests that a majority of recruits join TFA to do something meaningful with their lives following graduation, particularly “social justice…with a guaranteed income.” Most participants knew before entering the teaching profession that they were destined for more “prestigious” careers such as lawyers, doctors, or engineers, but wanted to do something to “give back” before pursuing these endeavors.

By nature of being at Colorado College, most students want to lead meaningful lives that include being responsible citizens and helping to address social problems. Thus, at first glance, the Teach For America organization looks like a fantastic initiative. However, there is a fine line between addressing educational inequity and exacerbating current power structures within educational institutions.

A vast majority of Colorado College students who join TFA have not been exposed to the same disadvantages as urban, low-income students. This creates an awkward dynamic in the classroom, where Corps Members have no way to relate to their students. Moreover, these Corps Members also have little to no educational experience, yet believe that their graduation from an elite college places them on the same level as certified classroom teachers. Many of them see TFA as either a time to think about what they want to do long-term or as a way to contribute to social justice (Straubhaar & Gottfried, 2014). By default, Corps Members rationalize their place in the classroom with a savior complex. They act as some sort of missionary from the privileged class, here to save the poor kids…well, save the poor kids for two years before going on to a more prestigious career.

I have many friends who have chosen the TFA pathway, one of whom contested my last article by claiming, “I love my kids. I don’t care that I’m not qualified. I love my kids more than any other teacher could.”

The problem with this mentality is that one assumes that love is enough to solve educational inequity. TFA relies on this notion that students, like those at Colorado College, will wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to teaching for two years. This makes them feel good. This wins more recruits for TFA. However, this has led to higher turnover rates and lower achievement for the schools that are already struggling. In the two decades of TFA’s existence, the data shows that the organization is ineffective in increasing student achievement. This doesn’t even include the sociological impacts of how these privileged Corps Members view the teaching profession as a stopgap option or how the underprivileged students see their Saviors in the classroom as having no idea who they are or where they come from.

There is an inherent contradiction in Teach For America’s mission that goes unrecognized by the CC students who blindly endorse it. Great education comes from experienced teachers who dedicate themselves to the classroom. To believe that somehow a liberal arts education at Colorado College prepares one to lead a classroom of underprivileged, underperforming youth is not only arrogant but is an injustice to the United States education system.

If one’s motivations to join TFA are to pursue teaching as a long-term career, I recommend looking into other programs that place more emphasis on best practices from the educational literature. These programs include a Masters of Arts in Teaching, a professional licensure program from an accredited institution, or simply an experience as an educational assistant with your Bachelor’s, a position that allows you to assist professionally licensed teachers in the classroom.

TFA has great intentions, as do Colorado College students. Before taking the easy interview and pathway into teaching, consider your motivation for becoming a teacher. Teaching is a respectable career and should not be used to give life temporary meaning.

Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You: Privilege and Coercion

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A very important person in my life has inspired this post.

Based on my personal interactions, I believe most people neglect to acknowledge their privilege. Privilege is an advantage granted to someone, and specifically for this post, privilege is an advantage granted by the dominant class of society. American examples of this privilege include the privilege of the Caucasian race, high socioeconomic status, two-parent households, education, masculinity, English speaking and heteronormativity. In America at least, the problem with admitting one’s privilege spurs from the inculcation of the non-existent American Dream, that regardless of one’s background, any person can be successful in this country through his/her own efforts alone. Essentially, people don’t want to admit that they have privilege because it would delegitimize their accomplishments or successes. This notion also leads people to conclude that if someone is not as successful as they are (success being defined as financial stability, prestige via career or position in society, etc) that it is a product of a lack of effort rather than a lack of opportunity. The privileged class undoubtedly constructs this dichotomy.

Privilege is a partial determinant of the opportunities one has due to his/her innate qualities; privilege often diminishes the upward mobility of other people who don’t possess the same qualities as those who are privileged. Yet instead of viewing it in this light, the privileged stigmatize the less successful people in society as lazy, inherently of less worth, or worse, in chronic need of the “good will” or charity of the privileged. The latter of which is reinforced through coercive mechanisms of the privileged class.

This post is dedicated to this phenomenon of coercion through privilege. In other words, I argue that people who possess more privilege than others are able to assert power in ways that reinforce their own class while diminishing the power of those who maintain less privilege by comparison. In a non-academic sense, I think it’s quite simple. Privilege equates to holding more power in society. For example, because I am male, I will innately make more money in whatever career I pursue than a female will. Statistically, that’s a fact. Thus, I hold more power, potentially, over female partners I might engage with, female colleagues, and female friends of mine who are inherently making less than their male counterparts. Is it wrong to admit to having this power? No. In fact, recognizing power structures in society prevents one from abusing them.

Here’s the scenario that inspired this post:

A week ago, a good friend and I got into a fight that significantly hurt our relationship. A few days had passed, and I requested a favor of this person. I needed some data from a set of records he held, which required no more than a few minutes of online work. My friend, who is on an extended work-vacation, explains that he will oblige my request by that evening. While on this work-vacation, he is unable to get internet for the entire day, and thus sends me the following response:

“My alarm is set to wake up at 6:30am to dive to go to a coffee shop/wherever has wifi that early in the morning. I am with my friends right now on vacation and I don’t know how late we will be staying up. Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

My frustration is not that I did not get the data at the time originally promised. My frustration lies in the power structure established through his dialogue. Knowing this power dynamic would likely present itself, I was docile, so as to not bring up conflict or anything that would discourage his “charitable” behavior. I needed the data, and my pride wasn’t worth the risk of not getting it.

It is sad, though, that I was able to predict this would likely be the case. Are friendships, or relationships in general, determined solely by how much you do for each other?

His background is pretty straightforward: he is a white male; his family is in the top quintile of incomes in the US, and he has a flexible paying job with numerous travel opportunities. With such a background, he asserts his power seamlessly in the conversation, because how dare I disrupt his third or fourth vacation of the year, right?

Though I am still unbelievably frustrated with this individual, the situation that ensued inspired some personal reflection. Since engaging with coursework, texts, and assignments regarding the concept of privilege, I have never denied holding a fair amount of privilege in society. I’m white. I’m male. I know how to navigate the rhetoric that is most dominant in this country, given my speech/debate background. I’m educated. English is my first language. Understanding this scenario I faced with my friend has allowed me to recognize how coercive I have been with my friends, my colleagues and my family.

Is it wrong for him to be a little annoyed that I’m asking him to do something while he’s on vacation, or work? Is it wrong for him to be frustrated that I’m even contacting him after our big fight? No. It is wrong to belittle my request, claiming that he is doing me a favor? Well, it is considered a favor purely because of the privilege he holds in the situation- he has something I need and the only means I have to access it is through him.

Sure, this is a pretty silly scenario, but I believe it directly relates to acts of oppression that occur time and time again. How does one get power in this country? Many would say education. However, does everyone receive the same opportunities in education in this country? The answer is no, unless you cater yourself to those with power by attending a richer school in a richer district. You apply for scholarships from those with money. In every circumstance, one is appealing to those with power. One is relying on “favors” from the privileged class. And as a result, “Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You,” for fear that the favor or marginal power may be revoked.

A favor implies that the equilibrium is being thrown off balance and must return to how it was before the favor was given. The current equilibrium holds certain classes of people above others given their race, their income, etc. Thus, when the privileged class does a favor, they are only reinforcing the power structures. The underprivileged group is the entity that must restore the equilibrium by returning what was lent to them, even if that boils down to admitting that they couldn’t have done it otherwise. They have been “saved” once more by those who actually worked for what they have “earned.”

Here’s the bottom line: the people who are underprivileged in this country don’t need further marginalization. Those populations understand that they are not considered to be as important, as powerful or as successful as the privileged classes. They do not want or need these so called, “favors.” They first and foremost need the acknowledgement of the lack of mobility they have as people in this country. But, they will continue to take favors as a means for survival until this idea becomes a reality.

The Dream Team For Education Reform

This month, I completed my course requirements to graduate with a double major in Economics and Education, ideally moving forward next fall in a PhD program in Education Policy. Needless to say, my head has been buried in education literature for years, and it is not getting out any time soon.

I maintain the lofty goal of transforming the United States’ education paradigm to reflect an equity-focused, cultural competent system of schooling. Though there are dozens of pathways to achieving this outcome and hundreds of education scholars have been in agreement that equity and cultural competence are priorities for education reform, policymakers continue to produce little change regarding these particular shortcomings in the national education system. For instance, the revolutionary article produced by Gloria Ladson-Billings, “But That’s Just Good Teaching!” has been circulating throughout academia for about two decades, garnering collective support from educators. Yet, there appears to be a gap between these educators and those who design and implement policies. Why does this gap exist? Aren’t policymakers suppose to have the best interests of educators and their respective students in mind?

No. Policymakers, at least on the national level, are inherently political. A majority of policies that are implemented in the U.S. education system are tied to the interests of businesses (privatization via charter schools), renown politicians (value-added assessments via Race to the Top), and dogmatic know-nothings that reallyyyyyy enjoy listening to themselves speak (budget distributions via parent-led school boards). I find that the field of education suffers from the “Just Anybody Can Do It” mentality possessed by a majority of people in this country. Teach For America assumes that affluent liberal arts students can teach in low-income schools. School boards assume that successful CEOs of real estate companies or lawyers can govern the financials of an entire district. The list goes on and on.

However as a student interested in professionalizing teaching, I have found inspiration through particular educationalists, many of which have gained national media attention. Many of these iconic figures rose to fame for their contributions to education research, but several are notorious for their stubbornness and their lack of adherence to the political wills of education reform efforts. Within the platforms of these individuals, I have been inspired as a student, as a teacher and as a researcher. One could say that I have formed my own sort of Dream Team, a fantastical mechanism through which I continue to maintain hope for the arrival of a new, revolutionary education model for the United States.

Ken Robinson

“You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do is like a farmer create the conditions under which it will begin to flourish.”

SirKenRobinsonPhoto_RyanLashTEDSir Robinson is actually the first person to inspire me to pursue education as a career, and he did so in two ways: first, recognizing that anyone can make a career out of something they love; and two, opening my mind to the possibility that education is about much more than math, science, reading, test scores, or any specific reform focus. Ken Robinson argues that education is about life. Reform for education is crucial not only because the current system is failing in virtually every measurable way but also because education is the gateway to happiness. Every human being has the right to pursue happiness.

Sir Robinson contributes the vital element of creativity to my Dream Team. Though he is seen largely as an advocate for the arts (which I certainly do not contest), his stance is very different from traditional arts advocacy. The overlapping purposes of the arts and education inspires people to learn about possibilities, understand the alternative reality of possibility and the concretization of possibilities into reality. Robinson serves as the face of the creativity movement, but I also recommend reading Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity, many of the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, and Markus and Nurius’s Possible Selves (1980).

Geoffrey Canada    

“Good dental care doesn’t make you a good student, but if your tooth hurts, it’s hard to be a good student.”

org_CanadaKnown for his development of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada has dedicated his career to eliminating the externalities hampering education and a community-based schooling model for replication outside of NYC. Canada is largely a critic of one-size fits all policies that negatively impact youth of color, low-socioeconomic households and traditionally underrepresented students in the classroom. Some of the priorities of HCZ is the education of parents on how to keep students on track in their learning (including what resources are available to them to curtail inherent disadvantages within low-income communities such as access to health care), the mandate of culturally relevant teaching in the classroom and the pipeline system of schooling where students are given access to HCZ resources that extend to their homes, after-school programs and weekends.

Canada’s greatest contribution to the field of education is his push for national recognition that educational success is impacted in and OUT of the schooling context. This fact is often ignored by a majority of policies that are implemented on the national level. Similar to Canada, I aspire to start my own community-based schooling model.

Gloria Ladson-Billings

“This is not new stuff. I think when it comes to educational reform we, as Americans, have a short attention span. We are great thinkers and innovators. We have great ideas all the time, but we are poor implementers.”ladson-billings

As a scholar, Ladson-Billings describes much of her career as being spent in the physical classroom, observing teachers and students while also publishing important research regarding multicultural education. As someone who aspires to be a scholar but who is also afraid of the limitations that come with being locked inside the Ivory Towers, I find Ladson-Billings inspiring. Her work is understandable. Her work is revolutionary. Her work is applicable and practical. Though I continue to be disappointed by the lack of adherence to culturally relevant pedagogy across the country (moreover the blatant ignorance of this framework), I have gained much respect for Ladson-Billings’ tenure, and her presence and thoughts on education are vital to any education Dream Team. I recommend reading one of her most notable works: But That’s Just Good Teaching!

Linda Darling-Hammond

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap. That means supporting children equitably outside as well as inside the classroom, creating a profession that is rewarding and well-supported, and designing schools that offer the conditions for both the student and teacher learning that will move American education forward.”72baeaf7b92deb339cdb6ab5f09009b4

As perhaps the strongest opponent of Teach For America, Darling-Hammond’s research agenda is the most closely aligned with my own: professionalizing teaching. In her book Right to Learn, she outlines the limitations that policies place on a teaching career. In 2005, Darling-Hammond produced research concluding that Teach For America teachers were as effective as uncertified teachers in the classroom, and her work has expanded on this finding for the last decade. In my perspective, her work really captures the effects of short-term solutions, temporary band-aids on the education system and the limited credentials of the teaching profession. Her tact and discernment on teaching is what makes her an asset to the Dream Team.

Michelle Rhee

“You’re fired.”

PH2009010701816To be honest, I do not agree with much of the policy promoted by Rhee. I do, however, acknowledge her brilliance in education politics. Rhee is the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and led the district through a massive overhaul of reform. She fired teachers who she deemed unqualified. She cut unnecessary programming and administrative costs. She raised hell. Michelle will give the Dream Team a nice balance. She has opposite viewpoints from many of the members, but her passion and diligence for change are true assets. Though the other team members are fantastic in their scholarly work, our country needs this fire before it will wake up to see the problems with existing education paradigm.

The Good Intentions Yet Harsh Reality of Teach For America

As I sit here writing up the alarming results of my latest research in education, I cannot help but reflect on an article I wrote nearly a year ago for Colorado College’s Catalyst Newspaper. After spending hours formulating a unique dataset with value-added scores from over 600 Florida teachers from across the state, I clicked one button in SPSS around 2AM last night, and the results further concretize the importance of teacher training and preparation in the United States. Although I would love to share my detailed, final results of this project, my brain can’t seem to process anymore information regarding this study until it’s fully written up. So I will just mention the biggest highlight- teachers with full certification maintain on average 38% higher value-added scores than do teachers who possess a non-renewable, temporary teaching license.

Teach For America recruits students from elite institutions across the country to become temporary teachers in disadvantaged schools. To prepare for this lofty task, these individuals enroll in a five week teaching boot camp that is suppose to prepare them to lead their own classrooms. The jury is still out on whether a majority of these teachers take the place of fully licensed teachers or whether they are filling vacant spots that otherwise would not be filled. Nevertheless, due to the fact that it is illegal to receive such poor preparation and become a licensed teacher, these individuals are granted a non-renewable license for two to three years while they fulfill the necessary coursework and instructional hours necessary for all other wanna-be teachers. Why the exception for these students? Historically, TFA has always pitched the idea to districts and states that the organization exclusively recruits the most elite of students, and so these students are more than capable of leading a classroom of 30+ without prior preparation.

I have many points of contention with not only TFA but with any organization that attempts to shortcut the pathway to teaching. A majority of my arguments can be backed with quantitative research and evidence, but after writing this article for The Catalyst, I have become even more appalled as I watch my former classmates in their stopgap before moving on to “better” things. Every week, I see at least one example of underrepresented students being used as tokens of service to the greater good, complete incompetence and the lack of respect for culture, and the unfortunate dichotomy of the privileged “giving back” to oppressed youth in this country. As I continue to follow my friends, I see many already looking for new options after fulfilling their TFA requirement. Law school. Policy. Peace Corps (are you serious?). Unfortunately, all of my former classmates fall into the harsh statistic that 80% of TFA Corps Members will leave teaching forever after three years, causing more turnover, more vacancies…and as it turns out, they weren’t doing a whole lot of good in the first place.

TFA and organizations like it are bandaids. They cover up the eyesore of our education system that policymakers don’t want to acknowledge. Let the wound bleed, maybe our nation will finally start paying attention.

Here is the original article I wrote, and thanks to a dear friend of mine who is still in TFA, I became aware that this article actually reached TFA’s headquarters, as they asked him to write a response. An extended thank you to you, my friend, for taking the time to understand and educate yourself on how to be culturally relevant and not oblivious to the nature of the work you do.
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Originally published by The Catalyst, March 1, 2014

Several months ago, I received a complimentary email from a Teach For America recruiter, lauding my “great accomplishments” at Colorado College and my influence on campus. After deflating my head from the first paragraph of this ostentatious account of my work, I proceeded to read the rest of the email, which cited buzzwords, such as the problem of “educational inequity,” in an attempt to promote agency in me as a “highly skilled college student” to teach in a low-income community.

Teaching is a profession that many college students choose to do after they graduate, and here at Colorado College, there are two options for full licensure: enroll in the 14-month Master of Arts in Teaching program or complete a rigorous undergraduate licensure program. However, many CC students take a different route in exploring the teaching profession: Teach For America. Considering that TFA ranked Colorado College fourth in 2012 and 11th in 2013 for the number of students contributing to the program among all small colleges in the US, our institution could not be more proud. I, on the other hand, could not be more appalled. Though I cannot argue with the fact that Teach for America makes one appear altruistic and motivated on a résumé, I argue that our institution and its students are exacerbating the problems with educational inequity and are contributing to the deprofessionalization of teaching by joining and supporting TFA.

Teach For America aggressively recruits students from the top-300 colleges in the U.S. to teach in low-income communities. College students sign a two-year contract with TFA and gain a provisional teaching license after completing a five-week teaching boot camp at the organization’s headquarters in Phoenix. After the two years of “service” have elapsed, corps members who teach in a majority of states are forced to either enroll in a full licensure program or simply leave the teaching profession. The National Education Policy Center reports in January 2014 that over 50 percent of TFA teachers quit teaching after two years and 80 percent quit teaching after three years.

Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond explains in her research from 2005 that TFA teachers are less effective than teachers who possess certification and are more experienced, claiming that years of experience in teaching and preparation in teaching certification programs are the most influential factors that relate to K-12 student achievement. Considering that most TFA teachers leave after three years, there seems to be a contradiction in the model that Teach For America is attempting to provide.  Not only do corps members receive inadequate training in TFA’s summer institute, but they also are given little incentive to remain classroom teachers after their contracts with TFA expire. These are some of the most common criticisms of the TFA program, and CC students applying to TFA are made very aware of the drawbacks of the model by college professors.  However, these corps members don’t critique the roles they play in the whole process.

Colorado College students are privileged. As a college student whose education is primarily financed through grants and loans, I am well aware of the opportunity that I have that most people do not have: I attend a prestigious college, which over four years costs three times as much as the house in which I grew up.  This privilege is what begets the problem. The K-12 schools in which elite college students are placed through TFA host a demographic that is usually unfamiliar to them. Along with having no experience in teaching, corps members also are not aware of their students’ cultures, the school culture, or the community culture. If we are to be honest about the general recruits and targets of TFA, the organization recruits rich, white college students to teach poor minorities in failing schools. This model creates a dichotomy in which those who are privileged are put in a position of power and are rewarded with a feel-good résumé booster, while their students suffer from low academic achievement and a teacher who doesn’t understand their culture. TFA places little emphasis on culturally relevant teaching, because the five-week program is barely enough to cover basic teaching methods for those corps members who have no prior education coursework.  The responsibility is thus placed upon the TFA corps member to make up for this deficit during his/her term of service, and this is what truly makes TFA the hardest two years of many of its corps members’ lives.

Teaching is hard, and when we think about the best parts of our education, we often think about one or two teachers that truly made an impact through their tireless devotion and passion for the discipline. Education affects everyone at some point in his or her lives. However, how do we ever expect to start valuing teachers as much as we value doctors, lawyers, and other top-tiered career options when organizations like TFA are promoting this idea that just about anyone can teach? One would never suggest offering a Doctors For America program where the organization places recent college graduates (after five weeks of training, of course) into emergency rooms to operate on patients to test out the profession or simply gain experience. We wouldn’t want to let someone’s health fall through the cracks, but this type of model is okay for teaching? So much for no child left behind.

As an institution and as students, are we ready to say that we are comfortable replacing certified and trained teachers with a random selection of our recent graduates? Moreover, are we correct in making the statement that anyone can teach? For the sake of our education system, I hope not. Here’s my call to action for my fellow CC students: it’s time that we critically reflect on this notion that “service” is a temporary profession. Take an education course here at CC. Try managing a classroom of 30 students. Find non-TFA funded studies that challenge and/or support your view of the program. Teaching is so much more than just a stopgap option. It’s a respectable career.

What Do You Love About Yourself

As a college student with my own successful business, stacked schedule and established community network, I am most often asked by my peers, “How did you find your passion for wanting to do these things?” For many years, I struggled when answering this question.

As a child, I was raised with the mentality that I was the best at what I did, consistently promoted by my parents to embrace competition that produced tangible rewards. Competition, or being the best at what I did, became my focus in school, in extracurriculars, and even in social affairs. Being a quite heavy child, I became accustomed to brushing off the parts of me that certainly were not comparable to others, such as my body, my reading ability or even my public speaking skills. Instead, I focused on what made me unique, successful, and simply better than everyone else: math. I even remember being in the 5th grade, having just recently set the record in Math Olympics (no joke) at the annual competition, and actually writing and publishing stories about math characters to my classmates. I, of course, characterized them based on who I liked most and least and begged my teachers to read/edit my scripts. I wanted to propel my math successes forward; I didn’t want what I had accomplished to go forgotten or unnoticed, even if that meant I had to write to make that happen.

This momentous time in my life can be easily juxtaposed to my math-filled writing endeavors. I hate writing. Always have. Yet, I write because I am passionate about what I do, what I say and who I meet. Sometimes to get to the places I want to be or to reach the milestones that are of necessity to my long-term success, I have to do things that require more…attention-span…or that are not always within my innate abilities. I overcome my boredom, limited abilities, and mere desire to be doing something more thrilling by assigning purpose to said activity. In practice, this may be as easy as illustrating to high school students that if they don’t go to college, their chances for earning a decent salary or escaping the cycle of poverty is little to none. Although, this task may be as difficult as trying to convince someone with public speaking anxiety that forgoing these drama skills will be a serious handicap for their future career prospects (also, given the empirical evidence that a majority of the American public is not exactly adept at speaking in front of crowds).

One has to find passion within oneself. Imagine if my response to the earlier question was, “You have passion. It’s in there. Just find it.” Well, that’s not exactly helpful for many college students. Rather I propose that students write out a list of qualities that they like most about themselves. This is a very basic activity that I use in all of my K-12 classes, attempting to inspire the early development and crystallization of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a term used in developmental psychology to describe the extent to which one believes he/she is capable of accomplishing certain goals or specific tasks (Bandura, 1994). While it is important to note that self-efficacy only applies to individual tasks or goals, this concept has shown to lead to an overall increase in self-concept, self-esteem, core self-evaluation. Simply put, one has to determine what one is already good at to affect performance in other domains. For example, I am no longer a fan of math; yet because I liked math and was good at math and knew I was good at math, this allowed me to feel secure in my career prospects. In the 8th grade, I wrote a paper about my aspirations to be an accountant (yuk). I felt academically supported because of my math grades. I felt that my Cs in English couldn’t define me if I had As in math (I shall discuss grades in a future blogpost). This very basic formula is very real for a lot of students, including my own peers at Colorado College.

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When we get to college, we often feel like we aren’t as good as everyone else here, whether it’s because we are surrounded by thousands more of us or hundreds of very intelligent, elite students. This leads to the self-applied pressure that we want to fit in with everyone else yet also need something of our own to call special. I just recently interacted with a former intern of mine who claims that he/she would like to start up an organization like Kids Are Dramatic, because starting an organization brought me fame and success- naturally this should apply to him/her. Yet the formula for success is not external; rather it is internal. It is realizing what you personally are fantastic at doing. What makes you special. Better phrased, what you love most about yourself.

This mentality is in fact what allowed me to survive in a low-income, single-parent household, living with my mother, my brother and grandparents for the four years of my high school education. Many of the family members who remarked on my successes in my childhood later became sought to criticize my every action, particularly those who tried to turn my self-efficacy, believing that I am capable of achieving certain milestones, into a stopgap. They claimed, “The bigger you are now, the harder you will fall later.” But by the point of my high school education, I had received nearly 12 years of consistent support for my endeavors, eliminating the possibility for this shift in developmental psychology. College students and grown adults have the skills, the passion and the potential to redesign themselves. It’s already there. Sometimes it takes someone- a teacher, mentor, or even yourself- to illustrate what it is to love about yourself.

All you need to get success…
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…is a little bit of self-efficacy, believing that you are a superhero.

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