Mississippi is short on teachers. And the responsibility is increasingly falling on emergency staffing and alternative track teacher programs such as Teach for America. TFA places more teachers in the Mississippi Delta than in any region in the country. And they plan to double their numbers. The state has allocated millions to support TFA’s growth, but has done little to keep teachers, TFA members included, in the classroom.

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Mississippi Invests In Teach For America To Fill Shortage

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 30 Jul 2012 06:34pm | comments
Sloane Winters learns to teach at a Cleveland summer school as part of Teach for America Summer Institute. Photo by Erin Hulse.

Sloane Winters learns to teach at a Cleveland summer school as part of Teach for America Summer Institute. Photo by Erin Hulse.

Mississippi is short on teachers. And the responsibility is increasingly falling on emergency staffing and alternative track teacher programs such as Teach for America. TFA places more teachers in the Mississippi Delta than in any region in the country. And they plan to double their numbers. The state has allocated millions to support TFA’s growth, but has done little to keep teachers, TFA members included, in the classroom.

Teach for America places recent college grads in high poverty schools - schools that are often failing and hard to staff.  Their aim? To close the achievement gap - the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor and black and white.

The new recruits co-teach small summer school classes, get an introduction to teaching principals and stay-up late creating lesson plans - and occasional campy song – such as this rewrite of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe," "I just met you/And this is crazy/You met your growth goal/Go East Side Babies."

The new recruits joke that everyone at institute has “drunk the Kool-Aid”- or bought into the challenge. All of them were high-achieving students in college, but few graduated with teaching degrees. New TFA teacher Sloane Winters moved from New York to Mississippi to serve. Despite being a rookie, Winters says she won't be tempering her expectations.

"I think that the focus has to be that you set high expectations," says Sloane. "I mean you have to, because if you lessen your expectations, you are compromising. Those kids will rise to the high expectations."

The "no excuses" mentality is popular in many education circles. Claiborne Barksdale is a big supporter of Teach for America.  The organization he leads, the Barksdale Reading Institute relies on many TFA teachers in turnaround school efforts.

"We are looking for really strong teachers who can grab these children and move them ahead a year and half in the nine months they have them," says Barksdale.

Teach for America teachers aren't likely to stick around. Louisiana researchers George H. Noell, Ph.D and Kristin A. Gansle show when compared to teachers with a practitioner or standard licensure, far fewer TFA members stay in the classroom. Graphic by Noell and Gansle.

There is no data, at least no public data, that show these results are typical. Teach for America keeps track of student growth for their teachers, but doesn’t share the findings. Outside studies show TFA can outperform other new teachers, though evidence suggests veteran teachers are still the most effective. Most TFA teachers never reach veteran status because they stay only the two years promised in their contracts.

Still, Barksdale authored Blueprint Mississippi's education plan and recommended the state legislature set aside $12,000,000 for Teach for America growth. Barksdale also recommended improving colleges of education and introducing merit pay, but the Mississippi legislature only acted to put money into TFA, allocating $5,500,000 (a smaller amount was allocated to the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a locally-grown alternative track program). While that’s only half of the amount requested, it's still the largest amount any state has ever appropriated for Teach for America.

Lisa Hobson is an education professor at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. She says it may seem counterintuitive, but a state cannot solve a teacher shortage by simply applying more teachers.

"You need leaders who understand instruction; leaders who are supportive," says Hobson. "Teachers who are dedicated as well – not just in it biding time before retirement. You need environments where the children want to learn."

Hobson says to find a solution, you have to trace back to what caused the shortage in the first place. She polled Mississippi first-year teachers, asking why they would leave the profession. The top response was unsupportive administration, followed by low pay and poor student behavior. The bottom line, Hobson says, is many Mississippi schools are not desirable places to work.

TNTP's 2012 report The Irreplaceables focuses on why effective teachers leave the classroom and how difficult they are to replace. Graphic by TNTP.

Back at TFA Institute, Solane Winters, a new TFA teacher, is co-teaching a small class with only a handful of students. The class is building vocabulary and comprehension with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  In a couple weeks time, she’ll have a full classroom all her own in rural Hollandale – home to extremely poor-performing schools and low-income students.

“I’m definitely not coming in with a feeling that I’m going to save this school, I’m going to save these kids," Winters says. "Because I’m not.”

Afterall, she says, she’s no Superman. She’s just one teacher trying to make a difference with the students entrusted to her.

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So where are Mississippi's Teach for America teachers going? Use the interactive graphic to explore how many corps members were placed in each school district.

Images

Sloane Winters learns to teach at a Cleveland summer school as part of Teach for America Summer Institute. Photo by Erin Hulse.


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