Hey 2012 CMs!
I’m a 2011 corps member. I’m not a particularly good teacher; maybe not even a good teacher at all, though I try really hard to get better. But nevertheless, I think I have some important advice that you can benefit from.
If someone uses your experience, which you so honestly and bravely share with the world on this here platform, as a means by which to make political statements or enhance their own relevancy in educational policy discussions, then that person’s advice is probably not worth heeding. I am, of course, referring to Gary Rubinstein’s current style of scouring the teachforus blogs for first year teachers who say something that he finds symptomatic of a larger TFA affliction, so that he can, at the author’s expense, ridicule them, make an anecdotal claim about TFA, and then cloak it in some BS advice, seeming like he has you and your students’ interests at heart.
A couple of examples of note:
In one post Gary attempts to give a CM feedback after reading his enthusiastic reflection about a successful first day of school. Gary points out three “mistakes” the CM makes. He first warns against patting students on the back as they enter the classroom. Gary then remarks that the CM should not to shake hands on the first day of school, even though acclaimed teaching advice books (Harry Wong’s First Days of School and Teach Like a Champion among them) suggest otherwise. So far, the two mistakes he points out are commonplace tactics that many teachers, successful and unsuccessful, participate in. The third mistake Gary emphasizes is that the teacher states “My name is Mr. Goodier and you are going to be the best 7th grade writers in the state of Oklahoma.” Again, the advice is contestable: sure such a goal is impossible to achieve, but many would argue that its very impossibility and immeasurability makes it a good rallying cry for students.
But two things turn this post from mediocre advice giving into something I would categorize as bullying. First, Gary did not simply stumble upon this CM and realize he could help him out. A TFA official twitter account actually quoted and celebrated the CM’s writing goal. Gary wrote this post as a response, but instead of attacking the much less vulnerable and well-intentioned TFA PR machine, or engaging in the debate about what kind of expectations we should hold our students without embarrassing anyone, Gary spent 90% of his time tearing down the CM, again, exploiting “flaws” that are commonplace in most TFA (and many non-TFA) classrooms.
Gary claims that his “purpose, here, is NOT to ridicule this new corps member. My hope is that my analysis of what he describes in his first day can be instructive to others (and to him) and help them all have better first years.” But the title of his piece is “How many things wrong with this first day?” Indeed, first year teachers are incredibly sensitive and vulnerable: they are on the verge of failing at something day after day they care deeply about. With such a snide title, Gary is either being totally disingenuous about the aims of his article or is simply obtuse about how to communicate feedback effectively. Either way, he is publicly making fun of someone working their butt off after their first day of school. To be fair, the CM did thank Gary for his advice, but what CM would dare seem ungrateful in such a public forum (I did the exact same thing when Gary misrepresented a post I had written about his views on teacher retention)?
Just tonight, Gary wrote another post, this time “advising” a CM who shared a story about a student in her classroom who stabbed another with a pencil. He advises her by arguing that she screwed up setting behavioral expectations at the beginning of the year, and now will most likely suffer a year of continually disruptive behavior, commenting “She ‘ain’t seen nothing yet.’” To begin, it is patently false that teachers with bad management at the beginning of the year will necessarily be stuck with misbehaving students all year long. Gary admits that many CMs attest to having behavioral turn-arounds in the middle of the year, but assumes that “most of them are lying.” What’s his evidence for such a bold claim? “I know from my own experience” he writes, ”that the kids let up on me a bit when there was about a month left of school, but that was out of pity rather than respect, and not after torturing me for nine months.” Of course starting strong behaviorally is incredibly important for new teachers, but “advising” that a bad start will all but condemn you to a year of frustration and failure will more often than not just allow teachers to lower their expectations and settle for something less than what they are capable of. His advice then is not just un-actionable, but likely to reduce a teacher’s effort and results.
But of course, the purpose of this post is not to give some advice to a first year teacher. It is to further his talking point that “Institute is not long enough…. It is not possible to learn how to manage a full size class this way, no matter how long you spend on detailed lesson plans or reflect on what your classroom management ‘system’ will be.” Once again, a lot of damage is being inflicted in order to harvest an anecdotal example that merely furthers a TFA critique that is anything but new.
Again, I believe this is bullying. It is using power as a relatively (by teachforus standards) well-known and well-read blogger to further oneself at the expense of people who are relatively vulnerable, sharing their inevitable failures in the first weeks of school. How do we know people are being hurt by this? Gary himself betrays this fact, stating, “Some of the posts I’ve referred to recently have suddenly disappeared.” Did TFA take down these posts (just like he mistakenly assumed they did with Camika Royal’s speech)? Of course not. These corps members chose to delete their posts, most likely because they were embarrassed. They did not ask to be thrown into the spotlight to be mocked by Gary and other bitter TFA alums (see picture below for a particularly mean-spirited and ignored example from the first post referenced), and Gary certainly did not ask for their permission.
CMs once had a safe space to reflect, share, and receive feedback as a community of people who were united by a deep commitment to student achievement. Gary does not seem aware that he is polluting this space, not with his critiques of TFA, which are often legitimate and needed, but with his hurtful mocking of CMs who are trying to better themselves as teachers. I’m not confident Gary will stop, so I ask that you realize the motivations behind his harsh words and instead seek out advice from people who have your interests and your students’ interests at heart.