By Levi B Cavener
Don’t worry about the swim instructor wearing floaties around his own arms while he “teaches” students how to swim. Oh, and ignore the training wheels attached to the cyclist instructor’s bicycle. Such is the advice given in Teach For America’s (TFA) response published in Idaho Education News to an Op-ed I authored in December critical of the organization.
The response, penned by TFA’s “special education specialist” Dhathri Chunduru, offers a detailed view of how the organization supports TFAers hired as special education instructors in Georgia. In her reply, Ms. Chunduru outlines the types of supports TFA provides to these new special education “teachers.”
To TFA’s credit, it appears that they offer some training critical to any would-be special educator. However, she seems to have missed the larger point. TFAers receive this training on the job. Yes, students and parents, your TFA “highly qualified teacher” has training wheels.
As a quick reminder, TFA employees do not arrive with a degree in education or necessarily any training in the content area they are being asked to teach. Instead, they arrive with a whopping five weeks of “intensive training” that (Blamo!) has suddenly turned them into a “highly qualified” teacher on paper, but not in practice.
That’s right. Unlike every undergraduate education major across the country, the new TFA special education instructor has had zero coursework on working with students with disabilities. Autistic students will surely understand that their teacher is learning on the job. Language impaired students will obviously be able to articulate their pride in attending a classroom led by an instructor who has only recently heard of such a disability. Yup, looks like good things are happening in this classroom.
So let’s return to Ms. Chunduru’s basic argument in response to my Op-ed: It’s ok to have TFAers leading the classroom because they will receive training.
This is faulty logic. It’s not ok for a doctor to tell you that s/he’s qualified to do the surgery because s/he will get training later. Nobody wants to be the one lying on a table with a doctor who has only recently held a scalpel for the first time.
It’s not ok for a lawyer to represent you because he has great ambition to attend school and pass the BAR exam down the road. Nobody wants to stand in front of a judge with an attorney whose only experience in the courtroom is from watching episodes of Law & Order.
It’s certainly not ok for an individual to be placed at the head of a classroom full of our most vulnerable students because TFA training wheels are attached at the waist. Students and parents have a right to expect a highly qualified professional leading this classroom starting on the very first day of school, and a TFA employee does not fulfill this basic expectation.
Let’s hit the brakes on Teach For America in Idaho classrooms.