This week, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced AB 221, which would prohibit untrained teachers from teaching in low income schools. At its core, the bill seeks to “close the opportunity gap,” but fails in its attempt by making an organization known for recruiting young teachers and placing them in schools with dire need the target: Teach For America. According to a release shared by Assemblywoman Garcia’s team, this legislation “seeks to prevent additional education disparities that persist in Title 1 (low income) funded schools and are often exacerbated by poor educator training and retention, seen with trainee’s placed through Teach for America (TFA).”
As a 2012 Teach For America Corps Member, I couldn’t disagree more with the concept behind this proposed bill. I, too, was a new teacher at one point, and I can accept that I probably wasn’t as effective as some of my counterparts with years of experience. However, I can also confidently state that my students gained a new love for learning and reading; both of which I know stemmed from my own excitement to be their teacher. Call it naïve, but there is truth to the notion that students who come to classes with nurturing teachers who care more about them than just teaching academic standards, are the students who end up being most successful. I was able to offer my students my passion and my willingness to go the extra mile to teach them how to write a proper essay all while teaching them about the value of advocacy by taking them to marches with me. The truth is, without us serving in our classrooms, most of our students would’ve had to deal with substitutes, as there was a shortage at that time. The teacher shortage has worsened over time.
As I look back, I can admit that over the years, I became a stronger teacher. I do agree that a lot of that was as a result of receiving and participating in continuous professional development, but also from the mere fact that it takes at least two years for teachers to even begin to feel confident about their craft.
Assemblywoman Garcia didn’t take any of that into account. Her focus on Teach For America’s “lack [of] crucial training before entering a classroom” took for granted that so many of us joined to serve students already dealing with external issues stemmed from the rough neighborhoods, etc. These students’ experience with us wasn’t the cause of their achievement gap; it is so much more than that. Additionally, the bill emphasizes alarming statistics like “more than 50 percent of TFA trainee’s leave after two years” and that “80 percent leave after three years creating retention problems for the most vulnerable schools and their students,” yet didn’t include what kinds of schools these teachers are often leaving or the fact that there is an overall retention problem for new teachers because teacher salaries are not competitive or even remotely sexy. I was one of hundreds of TFAers that ended up being placed in an independent charter school my first two years in the classroom. While I can easily fall into the statistic of the 50% that leave their school, I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to teach anymore (matter of fact, I simply went to a school that was closer to home), but I left because the school itself had some management issues. This wasn’t TFA’s fault; this was the school’s fault. To put the blame on TFA for teachers having to leave toxic work environments is simply unfair.
If Assemblywoman Garcia wants to truly address systemic educational challenges facing some of our most vulnerable communities, why not work with her colleagues to introduce ACTUAL solutions rather than point the finger at the one organization helping relieve classrooms from long-term subs? Why not partner with TFA in developing a more complex training program? Why not prioritize full and fair funding for our students so that there is more money available to make teaching attractive and incentivize GOOD teachers to stay in it long term? The state’s goals for high quality education are not undermined by TFA’s supply of new inexperienced teachers; it is undermined by the legislature’s inability to create sustainable solutions to ease the burden of the teacher crisis in our state.
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