"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jay Saper on TFA and Subsequent KIPP Recruiting Experience

I talked with an amazing young man the other day about his getting booted out of TFA during the early fall of 2013. His name is Jay Saper, and, despite his recent experiences, he remains articulate, confident, and eager to become a real teacher with real teacher preparation and credentials. From our long conversation, it became apparent to me that he is much too empathetic to be successful in an organization like Teach for America, which values achievement scores and its corporate branding over the welfare of children and parents.

This is not to deny that there are many well-intentioned young privileged idealists from Ivy League schools who come in to Teach for America with the same goals with which Jay started. Few of them I would guess carry the fire that Jay possesses, with a commitment to democratic principles and social justice that he embodies and that he lives.

You see, Jay was assigned to Philadelphia at a time when thousands of experienced teachers were being let go, only to be replaced in many instances by the young corporate missionaries from TFA. When Jay went into a school for an interview with the principal, one of the first things he asked was why the school would hire teachers with five weeks of training, when mature experienced teachers were begging for jobs. Needless to say, Jay had a hard time getting placed and the TFA hierarchy cut him loose.

I was impressed with Jay's insights into the psychology of TFA. As a pedagogical sweatshop for  privileged college grads who have never known failure, but only the success that their advantages have enabled, TFA is able to manipulate that fear of failure that lies just beneath the surface of the over-tested, though never-tested, and to focus that fear through TFA's ideological lens that shrinks the effects of poverty and magnifies the potential contribution of would-be teachers to accomplish what schools and teachers will never accomplish alone. That is why, Jay said, that TFA Corps members are willing to work to the point of nervous breakdowns, lost relationships, hair falling out, etc.  

What is out of reach is made to appear close up by TFA trainers, as in one instance in particular that Jay related to me.  One of the many videos used during Jay's training showed a young TFA teacher doing amazing lessons in an elementary classroom. What the trainers did not tell the young initiates was that the teacher, who Jay actually recognized as someone from his hometown, was one of those rare TFA teachers who had spent four years in an elementary education program prior to coming to TFA. 

Jay had written to me following an interview that I posted at Schools Matter with a former KIPP teacher. He told me in his email that soon after he was cut from TFA that he was invited, via email, to attend a KIPP recruiting session for TFA teachers and alums at a restaurant in Philadelphia with free food and drinks. The way Jay described the session sounded like a cross between college mixer and a corporate sales meeting. Plenty of alcohol and hobnobbing, with an abundance of counterfeit $5000 bills all around the room. Recruiters explained that those attending could exchange those bills for real ones signing with KIPP or by providing leads to KIPP for new prospects who were signed as KIPP teachers.

As Jay said in his email, one of the recruiters confidently proclaimed that within seven years KIPP would have 10 schools in Newark and five in Camden.  It was tons of fun, Jay said, "and by that I mean fascinating (at least for someone who wrote an undergraduate thesis on Wall Street recruitment and resistance). As I do not drink or eat meat, was not enthralled, but this was certainly the reason why most folks came."  He added that it was a bit odd being wined and dined as teachers, at a time when most Philadelphia teachers did not have copy paper.

With the current public relations nightmare that KIPP's most recent abuses have generated, one may wonder if such plans are, perhaps, a bit grandiose. Recent news reports out of New Jersey indicate a slowing down of the steamroller in Camden. From New Jersey Spotlight:

. . . .The new KIPP-Cooper-Norcross Academy in Lanning Square, one of up to five schools that the project would lead to, was slated to open in a new building in September. But the head of the KIPP team in New Jersey yesterday said that was all but certain not to happen, with design and construction bids still out.
Questions about how the project would be financed and how its space allotted slowed the construction process, said Ryan Hill, president of the TEAM charter school network, KIPP’s New Jersey organization that would lead the new school.
He said instead there would likely be temporary space erected on the site for next fall, as construction is completed. His organization will start information sessions for prospective students in the next month or two. . . .

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