Teach for America Is Filling a Gap

In "Where Will We Find Tomorrow's Teachers?" (Learning, March 17), it says Teach for America critics argue that the program "doesn't include enough training and is robbing at-risk students of quality teachers."

It is important to understand that TFA corps members are placed in districts with major teacher shortages. The turnover in my district averages 20 new teachers a year, often leaving positions open all year. In these areas, no certification is even required. Anyone could walk in and apply. But they don't.

TFA corps members are at least filling some of these positions, and unlike permanent subs, they have a working know-ledge and excitement for their subjects. My students ask me daily if I'll be returning next year, having had three math teachers in two years. Placing corps members in these schools is hardly robbing the children of anything.

Secondly, the assumption that TFA corps members are not quality teachers is unfounded. Training does not necessarily produce quality. Any teacher will tell you quality comes with experience and desire. TFA recruits some of the most talented, creative, well-educated, and committed college graduates. They believe in children, believe in education, and are willing to give all their time (and often money) in order to provide the best possible education. In my county, TFA corps members have been nominated for Teacher of the Year awards and produce some of the highest test results. These are good indications of quality teaching.

Most important, however, is that even the highest quality teacher cannot change the socioeconomic situation in which these children are raised. My students start to deviate from the averages around second or third grade, when teachers start requiring homework. These children return to empty houses, or to adults who do not value education. They are taught to accept their station in life, without question. And what is this station? Poor, uneducated, welfare-dependent, single- or no-parent homes.

Also, as education theory heads toward integrated curriculums, exploratory learning, and modifications for different learning styles, what do we do with schools that can't even afford books? My school has no extracurricular activities - no music, theater, art, choir, yearbook, etc. These are variables outside the control of even the best teacher.

Teach for America may not be the ideal solution. Leaving classrooms empty, however, is no better. Quality education depends as heavily on family and community as it does on teachers. Until we decide to support families, schools, and teachers, our education system will continue to fail the majority of our children, particularly in under-resourced school districts across the country.

Maya Howe Dietz

Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

'97 corps member,

Teach for America

Money will draw talent to classroom

The "Reform Movement Targets Teacher Training" (Learning, March 17) correctly identifies some problems but dances around the one fundamental problem: underfunding. The solution, bluntly put, is throw money at schools. I guarantee you the talent will follow the money. I'm not saying that's right, but everything in this culture points to that.

My undergrad degree was in elementary education and I taught two years in Houston's public schools before becoming a lawyer. If you increase education school budgets, if you increase school administrator budgets, if you double teacher salaries, and if you stop building schools that look like medium-security prisons, I'll be back in a classroom, loving every minute of it!

Robert F. Alexander


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