Sunday, March 04, 2007

What Teach For America Teaches You

An interesting article by a recent TFA teacher:
My first week as a teacher in the Bronx was challenging, to say the least. Most of my students could barely read short chapter books, no more than 50 pages, and many required pictures to help them make sense of the text. While reading, few of them could sustain their focus for more than 15 minutes, if at all. When writing, the average student in my class could produce about three or four sentences on a given topic. A few could write a whole page, but just as many could scarcely write a complete sentence. Though daunting, these are challenges one expects to find in every elementary school and most middle schools. Unfortunately, I was teaching high-school English. My students were ninth graders, 14-year-olds with three years to go before the SAT, college applications, and the rest of their lives.

American public education is not the most glamorous topic in contemporary political debate, but it has had its moments in the spotlight: No Child Left Behind, school vouchers, affirmative action, etc. Each time education makes it into the news, there is some talk of the achievement gap, the term used to describe disparities in educational performance between low-income and minority communities and the rest of the nation. I had written a few papers on public education in college and had done some tutoring in low-income areas, so when I left Columbia, I believed I had some sense of this problem.

However shocking the statistics are (and they are), nothing prepares you for standing in front of a classroom and seeing inequality firsthand. During that first week, I gave my students diagnostic reading tests. On average, they read at a sixth-grade level, while a few could barely read at a third-grade level...The inextricable link between education and opportunity became clear to me, and in that first week, their piece of the achievement gap suddenly became my responsibility.

What Teach For America Teaches You

Nick Pyati

Posted: 11/27/06

My first week as a teacher in the Bronx was challenging, to say the least.

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