So far, no one has asked me for my thoughts on this, but in case they ever do they can find them here. We have had at least 10 CMs (only counting people who actually had jobs) quit in the first 10 weeks of school. Apparently, this is extremely uncommon for this early in the year. I think Memphis had about 160 placed 2011 CMs, so about 6% have quit. So the question is, why? Here are my hypotheses.
CMs did not feel prepared to manage their classes: At institute, our classes were, for the most part, under 15. Many of us got to Memphis and stood in front of a room of 30+ students. We had TAL1 on the first Saturday of school. I don’t remember the focus but I know it was NOT management, which is what so many people were struggling with. The best help I’ve gotten with management is from someone from the district, not from TFA.
CMs did not feel prepared to make long term and unit plans: The overwhelming feeling can sink in pretty quickly when you don’t know what to teach next and don’t know how to break anything down. Institute provides you with your objectives and their sequencing so you can learn how to plan but the bigger picture is saved for Orientation. But during Orientation we had a really poor introduction to breaking down standards. We were basically told to go at it with little information about how. Additionally, since many of us did not have jobs we were breaking down some random set of standards in our placement area.
CMs felt overwhelmed by all of the things they needed to do: There is almost a tug of war for our time, between what our schools expect of us and what TFA expects of us. TFA’s focus is on vision and changing your students’ life path while our schools need us to teach content so that students can show mastery on the TCAP. These two things can and should work wonderfully well together but to throw it all on a new teacher leads to a feeling of drowning. We have to figure out how to develop a grading system and plan a week in advance while at the same time weave our vision into our classroom every day and invest our students in the big goal.
One of my suggestions would be to hold off on the vision-setting. 11 weeks in I realize how incredibly important a vision is to changing your students’ life path, but at Orientation all I wanted to know was how to teach and how to manage my classroom! Additionally, your vision really needs to be specific to your students. You need to get to know them, spend some time with them, before you can set goals for them. What my students need more than anything in the world is self-confidence, so that they don’t feel the need to “check” each other and respond to “checking.” I couldn’t have known that before I met them, before I even had a job.
TFA Memphis did a great job at Induction. In fact, I think the corps culture we developed at Induction and strengthened at Institute has saved TFA Memphis from losing even more corps members in the first 11 weeks. But I think priorities for Orientation and the first 8 weeks need to be rethought. We need a foundation in teaching before a foundation in leadership will mean anything to us.