TFA’s partnership with the University of Minnesota sets Gopher state hearts aflutter
By Sarah Lahm,
Big news from the Gopher state: the University of Minnesota and Teach for America are one step closer to sealing the deal on their new partnership! It won’t be long before young TFAers can be found strolling the not-necessarily-elite-but-still-impressive grounds of Minnesota’s premier public institution of higher learning: the U of M. A little education reform with that jello shot?
Rest assured, doubters. This won’t be just any TFA partnership with a publicly-funded university. Instead, UMinn is rigorizing those who need it most: temporary classroom teachers. The TFA recruits who make it into the U of M program will go through, not one, but two rounds of exclusive *best and brightest* tests. Their first challenge: getting accepted into TFA (score!). But do they have the chops to make it into U of M’s specialized, alternative pathway to the top? Think of the process as akin to *Star Search* for the educrat set: big, flashy, with only the luckiest few making it to the big time.
And making it to the final round is only the beginning of a rigorous process. As part of their rigorizing, the TFA recruits will go through an incredibly strenuous Summer Institute that will double their teaching time—from one hour per day to two, over 8 weeks, not 5—before they are plunked into high poverty, high needs classrooms. Then they will be teaching all day and doing their own rigorous coursework all night, with nary a moment to think.
Onward TFA soldiers
Meanwhile, for those students who kick it old school and still think they’d like to make a career of teaching, U of M will continue to offer its high-quality, one year student teacher residency program. But as one U of M official explained to me, the university recognizes that this program isn’t for everyone—especially those who might only want to dabble in teaching before vaulting towards a *real* job. Onward, TFA soldiers!
Step to the front of the line please
We all know that there is a fiercely urgent need to diversify our teaching force, right? Well here is where our story gets interesting. It turns out that the alternative licensure program for TFA that is coming down the teacher talent pipeline is not the only one that the University of Minnesota will offer. One day, perhaps as soon as next year, they plan to start another alternative licensure pathway, this time for folks who already work in the Minneapolis Public Schools as aides and assistant educators. These people have proven themselves, not in the elusive, moneyed havens of the Ivy League, but rather in the unpredictable and underfunded classrooms of the public school system.
Show us the dough
But there’s a hitch. Billionaires and US education chiefs don’t back this homegrown program. Therefore the TFA alternative certification program will move in and set up shop now (the need is fierce and urgent!) while the U of M/Minneapolis Public Schools partnership will just have to wait until some funding comes through. Sigh. Back of the line, folks: something new and special has come to town!
A dose of excellence
How did Minnesota come to be blessed with a dose of TFA in the first place? Well, thanks to a savvy state legislator, who shall remain nameless but not shameless, TFA was brought here in 2009 in order to shake up the stifled air of failure that clung to Minnesota’s public schools like snow to Eagle Mountain. But getting TFA to Minnesota wasn’t enough for this dogged state representative. She was smitten like a kitten with the very principles of TFA, which will never set up shop in her highly successful suburban school district. TFA, she declared, has a *fierce unwillingness to let poverty dictate success,* and so the 2011 Minnesota state law allowing alternative licensure programs to flourish was born.
This legislator also mentioned a deep distaste for teacher tenure laws (eww!), especially LIFO. After a brief conversation, it was easy to see why. This legislator insisted that many TFA folks do stay in teaching after their two years of roughing it, just not in the classroom. In fact, she said, they *end up in administration because they are super stars*! As a great Minnesotan named Prince once said: *I’m not going to stop/‘til I reach the top/’cause baby I’m a star!*
Have you met LEE?
Lurking in the dark shadows of TFA is its mysterious cousin, LEE. Haven’t met LEE? Neither has the Minnesota legislator who claims responsibility for bringing TFA to the Gopher state, nor the U of M program rep who is helping design the *let’s reform TFA* partnership. Well I’m thinking that they should probably get acquainted because where TFA goes, LEE is sure to follow. Being in the classroom for a couple of years is, of course, not enough time to radically alter public education in our country (plus it’s really hard and exhausting; ugh). LEE is where the dangerously smart-like-a-fox TFAers end up, so that they can alter policy and teachers unions until the mere mention of poverty becomes a punishable offense.
As TFA expands its previously small Minnesota presence into a force to be reckoned with, watch for small armies of corps members moving with stealth precision into positions of power in the Minnesota state capitol. When they do, they’ll likely be welcomed in with open arms.
Sarah Lahm once worked as an English teacher and is now busy building a career as a corporate education reform crime fighter. She also has a bunch of kids who attend public schools in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrlahm.
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