Wednesday, January 6, 2010


My husband emailed this to me today, knowing I would find it interesting. The article discusses what makes a good, effective teacher, and details how Teach For America (TFA) collects data to answer this very question.

If you know me, you know I have HUGE issues with TFA. However, this is the first article I've read on TFA that actually made me respect the organization. They have been taking data on their teachers for years, rating what makes a successful teacher, and examining what qualities they should look for in their candidates to guarantee that their teachers are successful. I appreciate the fact that TFA does not just assume that because someone went to an ivy league school they will be a successful teacher- instead they are looking at the qualities they know have been proven to be successful in teaching careers.

"Grit" or a candidate's perseverance in the face of hard tasks, is most likely to be a sign of a future successful teachers (the article goes on to say that this is the same quality that predicts successful West Point students...)
It also states,
"superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls."

And it goes on to say...
At the end of the day,” says Timothy Daly at the New Teacher Project, “it’s the mind-set that teachers need—a kind of relentless approach to the problem.”'

I know that all of the teachers I work with at the think-tank would fall into these categories, most likely because my principal is fantastic at hiring (perhaps she could get a job with TFA helping find candidates...) but also because the think-tank promotes the sort of teaching environment where we are always setting goals with our students, engaging the families, fine tuning our lessons, re-structuring, assessing our students, and becoming fully dedicated to the success of each little one who enters our rooms.

Knowing that it is these qualities that make good teachers- and these qualities that make students successful- and knowing that it is possible for school cultures to promote such qualities in all their teachers- what does this mean?
Does data like this change policies? The article mentions how DC schools are changing their policies this year to be more in line with this data and it will be interesting to see if they are successful. I'm curious to see if these new beliefs leak out into wider policy shifts or just in general change attitudes in education (for better or worse)...


Jason said...

I also have deep issues with TFA and we disagree on fundamental issues that I don't think we can ever bridge. However, just like you, I definitely appreciate how they are questioning their own assumptions.

Here's the thing I struggle with. Organizations like TFA (and Rhee, RTTT, etc) seems to have fundamentally different definitions than I do on both the purpose of school and what the outcome should be. But can we coexist and both achieve our goals. Sometimes I don't think it's an either/or situation and we don't have to be fighting all the time. Other times I feel like they're the MOLE and constantly sabotaging me.

So what do you think?

Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting read - thanks.

organized chaos said...

Jason- I think you summed up my own struggle with TFA exactly- They are the MOLE and constantly sabotaging us. I have huge issues with TFA, and you're right, they stem from fundamental differences on the purpose/outcome of schools. I also feel like they promote an elitism, that sadly becomes racism, without meaning too. I lived with my cousin while she did her 2 years in TFA and heard stories, that although well meaning, shocked and horrified me as an educator. I could go on and on about them, and I try to hold my tongue, but I'm not always good at it...

Jason Buell said...

Clearly you can't say something like "heard stories, that although well meaning, shocked and horrified me as an educator" and leave it at that. That's such a cliffhanger!