Photo by Eric Mathison
Highline teachers were all smiles when Superintendent Susan Enfield presented a proclamation declaring “Teacher Appreciation Week” but earlier many teachers blasted Enfield for a plan to possibly hire Teach for America members as classroom teachers.

Highline teachers don’t appreciate plan to hire TFA members

By Eric Mathison

On an April 23 evening when Superintendent Susan Enfield read a proclamation declaring “Teacher Appreciation Week” several teachers told Highline School Board members they did not appreciate district plans to possibly hire Teach for America (TFA) members to teach secondary math and science classes.

Teach for America is an organization that recruits recent college graduates to teach for at least two years in low-income school districts. In addition to a district salary, the recruits receive a stipend that can be used toward paying back student loans or further their education. Some TFA members are credentialed teachers.

What really riled the Highline teachers is that the TFA members are given alternative certification and placed in classrooms following a five-week summer training program. The teachers contrasted the TFA training with their extensive college and post-college courses along with ongoing professional development training.

Supt. Enfield countered that the district has not contracted with TFA but only has an agreement. TFA members would only be hired to teach secondary math or science classes if the district is unable to find qualified credentialed teachers, according to Enfield.

She said the possible hiring would be “very, very limited” and would have no fiscal impact on the district. Enfield emphasized that no TFA members have been hired yet.

Highline Education Association president Sue McCabe used her allotted time during the Superintendent’s Report to blast TFA for a lack of integrity. The teacher’s union head related a story about a relative who she said was misled by TFA recruiters.

Retired Highline teacher Don Bunger said the Koch brothers, businessmen who heavily fund conservative causes, supports TFA,. He characterized TFA as a primary change element for the privatization of public education.

Another retired Highline teacher, Don Carmignani charged TFA is a “free market conspiracy to kill public education.” He added that he questions Enfield’s motives in supporting TFA.

“It takes a village to raise a child, not a dealership,” Carmignani declared.

Two teacher’s union leaders from area districts testified that the introduction of TFA members to their districts made certified teachers feel disrespected and caused a rift between teachers and administrators.

Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Education Association president, said the presence of TFA members is a continuing “open wound” to Seattle teachers, who feel that administrators believe the five-week TFA training is as good as extensive training obtained by teachers.

“I’m surprised how much that has stuck in the craw of teachers,” Knapp noted.

Ex Renton Education Association president Phyllis Silling said introduction of the TFA members was a “disaster “in her district.

“Professional teachers deserve more respect,” Silling said.

Teachers need even more training and professional development, not just five weeks, Mt View Elementary kindergarten teacher Delilia Leber told board members.

Teacher Rebecca Riley said experts estimate it takes about seven years to become an expert.

“Going into teaching is not a whim or as something to put on a resume to look good,” Riley said. She said t TFA members leave after their two years commitment with their student loans forgiven.

Mt.View Elementary counselor Amy Hepburn complained that TFA is promoted as leadership training with TFA members spending two years teaching in schools and then are expected to offer education reform ideas to experienced teachers.

Parent Meg VanWyk complained that parents had not been informed about the district possibly adding TFA members.

“You need the parents (on your side) with a bond and levy coming up,” VanWyk told board members. “We want more information.”

Certified teachers have honed their craft and “are not just a warm body from a good school with enthusiasm,” Highline High teacher Susan Andrew-Salmond declared.

At the end of the meeting, two former TFA members said their experiences in the program were positive. One said she raised the academic performance of her students by more than two grade levels in one school year.

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