Within the last years, Teach For America (TFA) has received attention from the press in front of the academic crisis that our country is struggling to solve. Facing a shortage if teachers in some areas (regions and specialties) or teachers deemed ineffective by various instruments, TFA seeks to solve that by placing high achieving college students with no to limited experience and training with teaching into the classroom for two years. Kinda sounds like something familiar, eh?
Much of the current criticism is that the candidates are generally under qualified to be effective teachers and by the time most participants leave the program, they’re just finding their way around the gig. But I say that we face the same problem from many entering the education field with a teaching degree…many who receive their undergrad in teaching spent most of their time learning theory of teaching with little direct practice except maybe one or two student teaching units. And there’s a high attrition rate among new teachers as well (those that can actually find jobs).
And TFA does really (even suspiciously) sound very similar to the Peace Corps. Mostly recent college graduates, who agree to serve in underserved (albeit foreign) communities for two years. Most volunteers have some experience in the area they work in, but it might not be direct (most Water/Sanitation volunteers have a background in construction or engineering, Environment in sciences or nature). Some countries and programs have high attrition rates just like TFA or teaching in general, and these are typically in very difficult assignments. And most volunteers are on the two and out program and most are not necessarily likely to continue in the field of international development or foreign service.
Instead, volunteers in Peace Corps and TFA carry the experience with them. While they most likely won’t work in teaching or international development, they’re likely work in community development or other social programs. At the least, they’ll remember they’ll remember their service, the inequality and the struggles they see and experience in their daily lives working in underserved communities and populations.