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The New Teacher Project

Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2000 
From: Morty Ballen 

Hey everybody!

I found some time in my secretarial schedule to do some part-time consulting with the New Teacher Project (TNTP). Tonight, I spoke to about 100 interested applicants about entering teaching through alternative certification. The NY manager of TNTP co-facilitated the event with Vicky Bernstein. Though I didn't get a chance to talk to her tonight, I had some thoughts.

TNTP is a spin-off of Teach For America and the NYCBOE has contracted them to recruit, select and train a cohort of 250 people to enter SURR schools in the fall of 2000. The idea is that there is a market of mid-career people out there, with a demonstrated record of achievement (undergrad, work, life experience, etc) who are interested in teaching and will transfer their skills of leadership, goal-setting, reflection, and critical thinking to the classroom.

The NYC program will cluster the new teachers in SURR schools and will pay for them to enroll in a masters program (at one of the CUNYs) as a cohort. Our proposal sounds like the perfect complement to TNTP -- they do the recruitment, selection and training - but the ongoing mentoring -- it seems like we'd be a good fit to not only give our 2 cents but perhaps to actually implement. I wonder if we could make a case to place some of the fellows at schools where NTPI teachers are teaching. Question: Does NTPI ever do implementation, or are we defined only as a policy-making group?

I know the chancellor wants the fellows to be in the hardest to staff schools, so it may be a long shot (I think Arlyne is the only fellow in a SURR school - is Zahra, too?)

I'm going to be doing interviewing and selecting for TNTP, too -- and my guess is that Vicky will be involved in this project as it is her charge to collaborate with TNTP to ensure that the chancellor's initiative is implemented well.

Of course another question is if NTPI -- as a group -- feels it can support an alternative route certification program. It sounds very similar to Peace Corps Fellows because the teachers will be teaching full-time and also enrolling in a masters program. TNTP has a website; I just don't know the address.

And now it's back to filing and attendance and milk money! 


* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2000 
From: Leo Casey 

I hate it when I end up being the "wet blanket," but this is one of those times when I feel absolutely obliged to do so.

It is symptomatic of the Board's 'quick fix' approaches, always poorly thought out and bereft of any advice from those who have actual experience in the area, that it has entered into a contract with Teach for America (TFA) to, of all things, prepare second career teachers with no background in education for teaching.

I say "of all things" because this is the very area in which TFA has always failed miserably. A number of years ago Linda Darling-Hammond authored an article is a major educational journal which was a devastating critique of TFA on precisely that topic. Other withering criticism has been published by former TFA participants.

TFA operates on a few basic premises:
(1) Teaching is not a difficult, complex craft and profession which one learns over time, but a simple practice that intelligent people can do, almost naturally, with little or no preparatory education in the field.
(2) What schools need by way of teachers, therefore, is a lot of intelligent, young, energetic people, preferably from elite, Ivy League institutions.

TFA goes to these institutions and recruits soon-to-be graduates in the same way, and requesting the same type of commitment, as the Peace Corps. Give us two or three years of your life to work with ghetto kids before you go off to law school, medical school or graduate school. (There is no point in appeals to those about to go off to business school.)

There is a certain "noblesse oblige" in all of this that is offensive. But even worse, TFA sends wave after wave of non-prepared college graduates into teaching, and almost all of them are gone by the point at which, under the best of circumstances, they might actually have learned something about how to teach. Almost all of these young people come with the best of intentions, but the cards are stacked against them doing anything positive from the start. Many drop out before they even finish a year of schooling. 

I would counsel quite strongly against participation in TFA-type and TFA inspired projects. Using them for an introduction to teaching is like using a fumbling 3 minute coitus in the back of a Chevrolet as an introduction to sexual love. You could prepare learn more by staying home with yourself.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Thurs, 22 Jun 2000, 1:01 a.m. 
From: Lisa Peterson 

Dear NYC NTPI group,

I think that NTPI's involvement with The New Teacher Project could be a very good idea. Whatever our group ultimately decides, however, I think our decision should be based on a current and accurate representation of Teach For America and The New Teacher Project. Leo's objections are based on several erroneous pieces of information (misinformation?). As someone who has been involved with Teach For America from its very first year, I couldn't let his e-mail pass without responding.

First of all, what is Teach For America, and what is its purpose? The answer to that question has changed dramatically over the 10 years of the organization's existence. TFA was founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, then a senior at Princeton, hoping to recruit "top college graduates" to serve as teachers in poor areas for a few years. The group's attitude was well-meaning, but far too dismissive of the craft of teaching. As Leo said, the organization didn't appreciate the complexity of teaching and the need for teacher preparation -- it just assumed that smart people could step in and do a good job. 

However, Leo's description is an incomplete description of TFA at that time, because it doesn't capture the genuine desire to make a better world that characterized most of the staff and corps members. (Maybe there is "noblesse oblige" inherent in this desire, but if so, then you could say the same of the Peace Corps or any group of young non-profit workers.) Even more disturbing to me, however, Leo's description bears no resemblance at all to TFA as it currently exists. 

I have known Wendy Kopp for 10 years now, and what I admire most about her is her dedication to excellence. If something isn't working, she truly tries to figure out how to make it work. That first year was crazy -- but to the credit of Wendy and TFA, people listened and learned from their mistakes. It quickly became clear that teaching was a hell of a lot more difficult than we had thought, and that most corps members weren't the stunning successes they were supposed to be. (Take it from a 1990 corps member -- my first year was stunning, but not exactly successful!) 

Wendy and TFA acknowledged that we all had a lot to learn. TFA tried for a few years to provide its own professional development, but it soon became clear that there was no way that we could finance any kind of meaningful professional development. Rather than provide inadequate and unhelpful services, TFA decided to focus on areas in which it could succeed. At this point, TFA focuses on recruiting individuals with diverse backgrounds (and it does pretty well with hard-to-recruit groups, such as math and science teachers or people of color). TFA also focuses on selecting self-motivated individuals and assisting them to continue their own professional development. In New York, for instance, TFA is beginning a partnership with Bank Street to train its teachers in a special masters' program. There is still a five week preparation program in the summer, but the aim of this program is not to "train" the teachers, but to give them the skills to survive those first few months of school, with the expectation that they will seek out other professional development opportunities. 

I am familiar with Linda Darling-Hammond's article/diatribe against TFA -- in fact, she quoted me in that article. At the time, I was taking her class at TC, and I told her I didn't have any real success in the classroom until I began graduate work in education. She put that information in her article. However, I also told Linda that TFA changed my life -- I was planning to go to law school and had no intention of pursuing a career in education beyond my two-year commitment to TFA. I simply wouldn't have entered the classroom if I had been told to complete a graduate program first. I fell in love with teaching and decided to stick with it. Interestingly enough, Linda didn't put that information in her article, but she did tell me that if I wasn't willing to start with a masters' program, then teaching didn't need people like me.

I would never say that Teach For America is a perfect organization. But it does certain things very well, one of which is recruit a variety of caring, committed people into teaching -- people like myself, who might not have considered careers in education. And while some of these people leave after their two year commitments (or even before), many of them stay longer. Within the NTPI community, Lara, Morty, Janiece Gordon, and myself are examples of former TFA corps members who have made education our life's work. So are many, many teachers that I still know and work with. In my school alone, there are two 1990 corps members (10 year veterans), and there are several other corps members teaching well past their two year commitments. The fact is that for the districts in which TFA places teachers, TFA teachers are MORE likely to last out the first year than non-TFA teachers (the power of the network, perhaps?) The fact is that more than half of TFA teachers continue teaching beyond their two-year commitment. 

Given these facts, what should we think about The New Teacher Project? First, it is important to note that TNTP is NOT contracting to train teachers. It is contracting to recruit and select teachers -- an area where TFA is quite successful. The teachers will then be enrolled in a graduate program at CUNY. NTPI could try to advocate and/or help carry out an on-site mentoring program as part of our belief in ongoing, site-based professional development. We could offer to facilitate support networks. We could try to add a piece by which mentor teachers became adjunct faculty at CUNY, thus providing a career ladder of sorts. The possibilities are great, if we choose to engage. To me, this is an exciting opportunity to make a difference in a real attempt to solve a real problem. As Vicky said, the Board has an immediate need to staff their SURR schools, and that plan is in motion. Yes, we can stay home and stay pure, or even engage in some at-home activity among ourselves. But as for me, I'm for climbing into the Chevy!

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2000, 10:18 a.m. 
From: Morty Ballen 

I think it's important that the New Teacher Project, though a spin-off from TFA, has some significant differences. For one, its target group is not undergraduates -- it is anyone who saw the ad in the New York Times last week. At the recruitment meeting people ranged in age from 25 to 55.

The partnership with CUNY, and the fact that each of the fellows will be taking classes in a cohort at CUNY, is also a difference (the nature of TFA partnerships with graduate schools differs from site to site -- in New York it's with Bank Street, in new regions like Atlanta -- a partnership with a graduate school of ed. is in development).

I see the New Teacher Project as very similar to the Peace Corps Fellows. I think it is similar to STEP and Teachers for Tomorrow but the main difference is that the New Teacher Project teachers will teach a full load of classes.

In fact, if we look at the composition of ourselves (NTPI) -- we might see a lot of TNTP type people -- people with a demonstrated record of achievement who committed themselves to teaching even though they didn't enter the route through a traditional program.

In terms of Teach for America, I agree with everything Lisa wrote about Teach for America -- it has gone through an enormous learning curve, and is committed to assisting our country with the teacher shortage crisis that it faces. It's one of many solutions. 
Ideally -- and staff at TFA would agree -- we wouldn't be in business because there would be enough qualified and trained teachers for every classroom in America. 
Wendy wrote an op-ed piece reflecting about the organization after ten years in this week's Ed. Week. Check it out to learn more about the organization and how it's changed.

I guess my other question is how could our group think about the on-site, ongoing mentoring of the New Teacher project teachers. Lisa, would you want to meet with Karla to talk about this? Would anyone be interested in looking at our work to make some recommendations regarding mentoring for the new teachers?

See you in the Chevy!

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2000 
From: Leo Casey 

We all get our pleasure and companionship wherever we can, so I do not want to deny Lisa and Morty their three minutes in the back of the Chevy. It's not my idea of communion with others, but hey, in the world of individualist America, different (and in some cases, a lot fewer) strokes for different folks.

But I had a very interesting experience immediately following my post yesterday that reflects on this whole debate. I was speaking to a New School class on the "Politics of Urban Education," and I mentioned that the Board had entered into this contract with Teach for America. The teacher let out a gigantic belly laugh -- TFA had just entered into a contract with the New School to do their teacher preparation. Only the NYC Board of Education could enter into a contract with an outfit to do something that the very outfit itself knew it couldn't do, and hence, was looking to someone else to do it for them. Now I read Lisa's and Morty's notes, and discover that TFA is also contracting with Bank Street and CUNY.

Maybe I am supposed to see it as a sign of progress that TFA has finally recognized that sending unprepared college graduates from institutions and social classes of privilege into ghetto schools doesn't make it. So what do they do? Turn to the schools of education which are already doing such a miserable job of educating future teachers. Hell, CUNY has been on the verge of having the Regents pull the accreditation of its school of education these last few years. Sorry, but I am not impressed.

The whole point of STEP and Teachers for Tomorrow was to provide the type of teacher education and preparation that was not being provided, with very few exceptions, from schools of education. The problem is not how to attract people to education, it is how to make them into good, high quality teachers and how to keep them once they achieve this level of excellence. (Remember in the US generally we have a 50+% turnover, with over half of the new teachers leaving teaching within five years.) Apprenticeship programs like STEP and Teachers for Tomorrow where designed specifically to create a different model of teacher education, one in which the apprentice teachers learned the craft by practicing it with the guidance of accomplished mentor teachers. The summer 'quickie' institutes (10, instead of 3, minutes in the back of the Chevy) proposed by TFA, without a real public school student or class for miles around, are such a poor and inadequate substitution for such preparation and education.

Now I don't doubt for a moment Lisa's personal story. I am sure that joining 
TFA, and becoming a teacher, was an absolutely crucial and central point in her life, and one that led to her commitment to teaching. The question is: did that happen because of the way TFA works, or despite it? My own story of becoming a public school teacher starts with needing employment and income while I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation, and starting teaching in a high school as a PPT (we had different letters in those days) without a single education course or a single hour of preparation. That I went to become a good teacher who made a difference in the lives of many an inner city student was despite, not because, of my introduction to teaching.

Lisa is entitled to her opinion that Linda Darling-Hammond's analysis of TFA is a rant, and she can even be offended by Linda's comments to her that inner city students and teaching did not need her if she was not a prepared teacher. But Linda has dedicated her professional life to building meaningful teacher education programs, and the successes that do exist in schools of education, such as professional development schools, owe no small part of their success to Linda's work. In my view, Linda has earned the right -- and then some -- to make withering criticisms of programs such as TFA, which were founded on the insultingly narcissistic premise that all an inner city school or student needs to turn around and become a success is the brilliant presence of Ivy League graduates. (And I say this as someone with a MA and Ph.D. from the "Harvard" of Canada: I know what of I speak.) Moreover, Linda's account is not based on personal anecdote, but on careful analysis and review. And I happen to think that Linda -- and people like Kathy 
Stevens, who left Teach for America to work for STEP and to start Teachers for Tomorrow -- are right on target.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2000 
From: Morty Ballen 

I think the bottom line is this: there will be 250 new teachers in SURR schools beginning September of 2000. Whether we agree or disagree on the vehicle that got them to these positions (be it a 67 Chevy or a scooter), these new teachers and their students will greatly benefit from a mentor/mentee relationship. 

I think we have something to say about the characteristics of a quality mentoring program and we currently have Vicky Bernstein's ear to say it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2000, 6:04 p.m. 
From: Lisa Peterson 

It's a little difficult to type, what with the rocking of the Chevy and all, but I did want to make two points.

The first point is simply a clarification. Teach For America exists to recruit, select, and place teachers in under-resourced urban and rural public schools. It does not exist to provide teacher education. Instead, it tries to develop partnerships with existing organizations, such as Bank Street or the New School. The New Teacher Project has a similar function. The idea is to recruit, select, and place teachers in SURR schools -- new teachers to be sure, but hopefully teachers who want to be there and are committed to making the situation better. CUNY will be training the teachers. 

Obviously, this solution is not great. We would hope that the best qualified teachers in the city would be coming to work in SURR schools, but with some notable exceptions, they are not. The new teachers' preparation will not be ideal. They will certainly be given too much responsibility too soon, and Leo's points about CUNY and many other teacher education programs seem to be right on target. But I think this is where we might have an impact -- lending our expertise to help the program function better, getting them to add in pieces that we know are important. (So yes, Morty, I would love to meet with TNTP over the summer to see if we can help in some way.)

But my second point is more philosophical, and it is a genuine question, with no political motive behind it. Why is it that so many people who are politically active in education entered teaching through alternate routes? Looking at our group alone, many or most of us entered teaching in non-traditional ways. Linda Darling-Hammond herself entered teaching through alternative certification in the sixties. I don't question the need for solid preparation -- I certainly was horrendous without it -- but why is it that so many people who stay in teaching and become strong voices for the profession entered through alternative routes?

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2000, 11:10 a.m. 
From: Lara Goldstone 

I have been hesitant to weigh in on this discussion, because though I did begin my teaching career through TFA, I have many problems with the organization, the biggest being that TFA's goal is not to help provide long-term solutions to the teacher shortage but rather to help raise awareness of urban and rural education in the minds of "well-educated" young people who may or may not remain in education but who will, as a result of their TFA experience, supposedly go on to be advocates for youth. If this were not the case, why would TFA continue to refuse to recruit locally, thereby insuring that many corps members will leave their schools after their two year Peace Corps-like adventure is over? 

That being said (and I might add that I have many other, much more serious criticisms of this organization), Lisa mentioned that TFA does provide a powerful cohort experience, and to that I can testify. I was part of the most wonderful, supportive network of new teachers when I began teaching in Oakland, and of the 18 of us, all (7 years later) are still teaching in public schools, except for one who is getting her principal certification and an ed tech degree and another who is designing science curriculum. Together, we were able to support each other with the politics of the system, with lesson planning and resources, with morale. We were able to help connect each other with wonderful, experienced mentors at our different schools. Without the support of these other teachers, we may not have stayed in education, and I, personally, might not have been willing now to return to a less functional school district after an interesting stint in a well-run district had I not had that support when I worked in OUSD. The cohort experience, for me at least, led to retention even as students were setting lockers afire (and even though I have moved around a bit).

So, while I absolutely believe that our energy should go into rallying support for programs like Teachers for Tomorrow and the Oakland-Hayward Partnership I spoke about to Vicky Bernstein (rather than into band-aids like TFA), I would also be willing to make a push for the power of frequently-meeting cohorts to the Board, which has foolishly waited until late in June to fill vacancies it has known about for ages.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2000, 1:30 p.m. 
From: Leo Casey 

Lisa Peterson writes:
<< It's a little difficult to type, what with the rocking of the Chevy and
all, but I did want to make two points. 
Well just wait to work your way up to a water bed!

<< But my second point is more philosophical, and it is a genuine question,
with no political motive behind it. Why is it that so many people who are
politically active in education entered teaching through alternate routes?
Looking at our group alone, many or most of us entered teaching in
non-traditional ways. Linda Darling-Hammond herself entered teaching
through alternative certification in the sixties. I don't question the
need for solid preparation -- I certainly was horrendous without it -- but
why is it that so many people who stay in teaching and become strong
voices for the profession entered through alternative routes? 
A good and important question. Part of the answer lies, no doubt, in the poor 
quality of education departments and schools. I never took an undergraduate 
education course because that was not where you went for intellectual 
challenges. Quite the opposite. I still remember the first education courses 
I took for the Board of Education (at Hunter College), and the professor read 
classnotes that were so old and yellowed that the pages broke/fell 
apart/disintegrated as he went along, and the subject matter was a rehash of 
the Erik Ericson I had read as a high school junior twenty years before. Part 
of the answer lies in the fact that for those of us who wanted to change the 
whole world, or even just our little piece of it, education didn't seem to be 
the place to start. When we are actually engaged as teachers, we find that 
more than enough matters of intellectual depth and other challenges to keep 
us bust. Somehow we have to change that sequence.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000, 8:55 p.m.
From: Ellen Myers

Dear Team--Great conversation you have going. Thought I'd add my 2 cents. What if you focused mentoring efforts next year on one SURR school, maybe even Arlyne's school? Just a thought.-Ellen

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000, 9:56 p.m.
From: Morty Ballen 

Forgot again to reply to all . . . so it's doing a careful tune-up on a single Chevy instead of opening a garage for a whole fleet. Arlyne, what do you think? 

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000, 10:59 p.m.
From: Arlyne LeSchack 

Hi Guys,
I have been reading the conversation with great interest. We had some TFA teachers at my school quite awhile ago and it did not work out at all. 
Unfortunately, District 13 has a very poor record on mentoring which is probably one of the reasons for our huge teacher turnover. I interviewed to be a mentor for the District Committee last June, got the position, but then was never trained nor was anyone assigned to me- even though there were lots of possible candidates. Perhaps we could do better approaching the District as an organization- or do you see something more informal just with the school? 

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Tues, 27 Jun 2000, 8:15 p.m.
From: Janet Price

I'll defer to others on the merits of TFA but I've had many painful experiences collaborating with the Board of Education in my former life (trying to shore up their too-little, too late too same old same old efforts when I was at New Visions). It hardly matters if it's the central board or a school district. If we do decide to offer our mentoring services we must maintain our independence treating it as a pilot within our control about which we will report back to them. 

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Tues, 27 Jun 2000, 10:04 p.m.
From: Morty Ballen 

I don't think the district would understand the New Teacher Project and how the district fits in. Unless we are calling the chancellor's district "the district", in this case. 

I like what Janet said about us being in control of some aspect. Maybe the best way to look at this is through a piloted, local, single mentor/mentee relationship. For us it would mean a Fellow in a SURR school (Arlyne, I don't think there is anyone else) willing to a) be a mentor to an NTP person and b)examine the relationship. 

This kind of examination could be powerful as it would be action-research rooted in a new chancellor-driven policy initiative. The chancellor's office might be more compelled to listen to us, knowing we are really involved in this initiative. We would exhibit our "control" by honestly critiquing the policy initiative through our expertise -- i.e. action research. Of course it would be small in scale, but so is all of our other action research and we use that to critique and make policy all year long.

* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000, 7:10 a.m.
From: Arlyne LeSchack


I would certainly be willing to be a mentor to an NTP teacher and examine that relationship. But the two extended time SURR schools in District 13 are not formally in the Chancellor's District- (District 85), so teachers in these pilot programs might not be placed in our school.


* * * * * * * * * *

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000, 10:58 a.m.
From: Leo Casey 

It would be very important, if we were to put a program together, to have it in a school and a district which would be receptive and cooperative. But that need not be our first concern: if we think it is a good idea, and if we have some sense that the Board would be receptive (maybe a call to Vicki), then we should put together a precise for such an intervention, and go from there, keeping in mind that the success of what we do would have to be contingent upon working in a receptive school.


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