TFA educators not a threat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 20, 2012

Earlier this week there was a heated debate concerning the funding of the Teach For America program in Louisiana.

While the funding for another year of the program, which places program participants, often from distant parts of the country, into inner-city, rural or disadvantaged classrooms on a temporary basis, the debate itself was fueled by teachers in Louisiana who feel the presence of these outsiders demeans their own endeavors and demoralizes the regular teaching staff. Unlike those who have devoted their lives to teaching children, Teach for America participants often come from non-education curriculums and do not have to go through a rigorous certification process; instead their training consists of an intensive five-week course that mostly focuses on teaching strategy.

While it is understandable that teachers in the state, who now face more scrutiny under the newly passed education reforms, would feel some resentment toward these interlopers, in truth they should learn to see their erstwhile colleagues not as competitors but as new sources for ideas and invention.

One of the main complaints of the teachers was that these teachers come in and then leave just when they are starting to make a difference, but this does not have to be the case. At West St. John High School former Teach for America educator James Kline introduced a number of innovations during his time there. These include the project-based learning initiatives, which have become commonplace in the Edgard classrooms. When Kline left, his ideas did not leave with him as other teachers at the school have carried on what he started after his departure.

People from outside the community and even outside the realm of education may not have the insight that traditionally trained teachers do, but often they do have fresh ideas and a different perspective. And that is the most valuable thing the Teach for America participants provide and the reason the state’s educators should welcome their presence.