College & Workforce Readiness

Pilot Gives TFA Recruits Pre-Training in Cultural Competency

By Stephen Sawchuk — January 15, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Houston teacher Anthony DeLeon is giving some prospective educators a hard-knocks lesson on life in an urban classroom.

When he was an ‘06 Teach For America corps member in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, his colleagues assumed he was from some posher part of town, he explains. In fact, he had been born and raised in Little Haiti.

“You’ll see this when you become a teacher,” he tells the half-dozen or so undergraduates who are listening in on a videoconference line. “When you go other places and tell people where you work, you’re going to get some kind of crazy looks. Sometimes people are going to say, ‘Wow, I hear that school’s rough. I hear those are some bad-ass kids.’ There are few things more frustrating than that, because you know those people have never been to that community and know nothing about your kids.”

It sounds like something out of a class on racial justice and inequality, but in fact, the session is part of a new TFA pilot program. The initiative’s goal: to give a small number of recruits an additional year of preparation, with an emphasis on cultural understanding.

A Blended Course

Formally termed Education for Justice, the program launched this year with 75 candidates. Education for Justice participants all applied and were accepted to TFA during their junior year of college.

This year, as seniors, they’ve been split into six groups that meet on a monthly basis on a Web-based platform, where cohort leaders like DeLeon guide discussions. Participants also have two face-to-face meetings bookending the course.

In between each monthly session, the students complete an online module combining everything from journal articles to videos, TED talks, and poetry. Then they reflect on those sources in online discussions. Each session also requires the seniors to complete one assignment at local schools, where they’ve been matched with mentor-teachers and are expected to observe a certain number of hours each week.

“I appreciate the fieldwork aspect because it gives face to the issues that we discuss in our cohort meetings. Rather than just talking about these issues, we’re seeing it firsthand,” said Kassidy Maxie, a senior at Hunter College, in New York City.

And if the course seems largely theoretical in its first semester, the syllabus for the second half is more concrete, requiring candidates to learn how to plan a lesson aligned to a content standard. They’ll also have to videotape themselves giving at least one lesson and get feedback on it from cohort leaders and peers.

To evaluate the program, TFA will compare outcomes of participants with those of a control group formed of TFA corps members who applied to the program but weren’t selected.

An On-Ramp?

The Education for Justice program is based on feedback from principals, parents, and teacher educators, said Jamie Jenkins, a former TFA coach who now serves as TFA’s managing director for pre-corps development. Topping the list: They wanted teachers who knew how to teach, who were good at building relationships within schools, and who knew how to navigate cultural barriers.

DeLeon, who has taught in Texas after three years in Miami, jumped at the chance to participate in Education for Justice.

“One thing I really loved about it was that it was going to address a lot of the concerns I’ve always had with TFA,” he said. “I thought it could do a lot better with recruitment and with supporting new teachers, because a lot of them don’t know what they’re going into and come into it with a lot of ideas about these communities that are really off base.”

Education for Justice draws heavily on scholarship from African-American education scholars like Gloria Ladson-Billings and Lisa Delpit. The syllabus bubbles with terms like “hegemony” and “praxis” that come right out of critical race theory. The emphasis on culturally relevant teaching methods is a striking addition for an organization that has long faced criticism that it implicitly or explicitly promotes a “savior” narrative to the communities in which it works.

Video: TFA Defines Its Role Today

TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard says the organization’s central strength is harnessing “top-notch” talent to work toward ending educational inequity, a process that includes strengthening their cultural competency.

While TFA’s regular summer training includes sessions both on humility and on racial inequality, Education for Justice’s creators hope the additional time will mean a deeper understanding of those topics.

“We don’t separate out the conversation about diversity, community, and achievement. They’re married,” Jenkins said. “It’s a great on-ramp to being a culturally responsive teacher in the future.”

Some of DeLeon’s charges already seem to be finding their voices.

“We have children where I’m placed who are medically complex, medically fragile, and [other colleagues] call them handicapped. And I’m like, ‘You can’t say that, and here’s why you can’t say that,’ ” one participant said during a September meeting. “It’s little things like that that gave me a certain level of liberty. If I can get this out, I can keep speaking, and maybe things will change.”

Getting Feedback

TFA still has plenty to learn about the program, such as whether it’s gotten the right balance of in-person and online interaction.

The organization has also heard from some participants that the addition of the noncredit-bearing class to their schedules has posed some challenges. As of press time, some 18 participants had dropped out citing time crunches.

But for others, Hunter College senior Maxie among them, the class is evidence that TFA has indeed taken criticisms to heart.

“Honestly, it’s what TFA has been missing this whole time,” Maxie said. “It’s the foundational piece needed for every TFA corps member in order to be successful in low-income areas and communities, period.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as New TFA Pilots Aim to Tackle Frequent Critiques

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness In Their Own Words Stories of Tenacity: 3 First-Generation College-Bound Students Keep Their Dreams on Track
The pandemic upended college plans for more than a million young people, but not these seniors.
6 min read
Araceli Alarcon and Nathanael Severn, seniors at San Luis Obispo High School, pictured in downtown San Luis Obispo, Calif., on June 7, 2022.
Araceli Alarcon and Nathanael Severn, seniors at San Luis Obispo High School, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., will be the first in their families to attend college. While the pandemic complicated their plans, both teenagers persisted in their path to start college this fall.
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says 5 Ways to Make Online Credit Recovery Work Better for Struggling Students
Seven out of 10 districts use online programs for credit recovery.
5 min read
Image of person's hands using a laptop and writing in a notebook
Chonlachai/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion High School Graduation Is Down. There Are No Quick Fixes
Online credit-recovery programs are popular, but many shortchange students, write Robert Balfanz and Karen Hawley Miles.
Robert Balfanz & Karen Hawley Miles
4 min read
Illustration of students climbing broken ladders
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Q&A Conquering School Anxiety and Saving Lives: A Courageous Pilot's Message for Teachers
Tammie Jo Shults put into action a lifetime of learning—in and out of school—when Southwest flight 1380 blew an engine at 32,000 feet.
7 min read