Principals Get Right What Politics Got Wrong in SF

Working in education is tough because politicians who make the rules don’t have to play by them.  Case and point, SF Unified rejected a low cost contract for Teach for America that would have placed intern teachers in some of the most hard to staff schools.  This situation and the ongoing teacher shortage was described in the SF Chronicle article, SF Principals defy school board hire Teach for America recruits,

Schools like Bret Harte in the city’s southeast Bayview neighborhood, where 90 percent of students come from low-income families and nearly half are English learners, have an even harder time finding teachers, he said.

“I can’t find anybody who would either send me those (experienced) people or tell me they’re out there,” he said. “Those candidates are not interested in going to places that Teach for America corps members go.”

Hilinski said he posted an opening for a Spanish bilingual teacher and didn’t get a nibble. Yet he knew there were 15 Teach for America candidates — including some in special education —who wanted to be at a school like his.

Let me get this right, the district has a contract for teachers in high needs subject areas who want to work in underserved neighborhoods that other teachers don’t.  There are openings.  Principals want the TFA’ers, and the school board doesn’t move ahead with the contract, based on an ideological critique of Teach for America.    It may make sense in an education school theory class, but it doesn’t make sense for kids.

Sacrificing students on the altar of ideology

I, like many, have some TFA critiques, which have lessened over time.  But someone please show me how this adult argument helps students.  The District admits it has openings, and schools aren’t even getting applications.  Apparently the district will cut off Black and Brown children’s noses to spite their face.

And looking into my crystal ball—I will bet you the vast majority of openings in SFUSD are not at Lowell, or the more privileged schools, I guarantee you they are in the BayView, and Hunter’s Point, where low income students who need the best schools, but tend to get the worst ones are located.  Where none of the SFUSD trustees likely send their kids (just guessing).

So yeah it’s easy to stand on principle to sacrifice other people’s kids on the altar, to make speeches and inveigh against the boogeyman of privatization.

But if you want to see the real boogeyman, go to one of these classrooms without a teacher.  Watch those bright and enthusiastic Black and Brown faces dull before a parade of subpar substitutes whose eyes are trained on the clock each day, awaiting the final bell.  Listen to their parents complain about wasted years, that their kids can’t afford to waste.  And listen to the principals who actually need these teachers and know they can’t deliver without them.

Principals over “principled” arguments

This is an argument about politics.  If there were alternatives proposed by the anti-TFA folks that would be something, but there are only platitudes and hypotheticals.  And a platitude can’t teach.  Again from the Chronicle,

Board members said the district needs to focus on recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers with experience and full credentials rather than relying on two-year temporary teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools.

“We’re not going to put a Band-Aid on the problem,” Walton said. “You don’t put a Band-Aid on when you get a broken arm.”

A massive teacher shortage has schools everywhere scrambling for qualified candidates to cover classrooms this fall, especially in the areas of special education, math, science and bilingual education.

And maybe it is a band aid, but if you don’t have a practical fix for the broken arm (as SFUSD doesn’t) and you are bleeding, you do your best with band aids.  A band aid is better than nothing.

And school leaders sum this up perfectly,

“I just think this is not the time to make a political statement,” said Ricky Mendoza, principal of Flynn Elementary, who hired three Teach For America teachers for the fall. “Right now, because    of the teacher shortage, it’s basically a sellers’ market for teachers.”

Matthew Hartford, the principal at Lakeshore Elementary, hired one of the teachers. The recruit will teach special education and brings a certificate in autism. Finding someone like that in the middle of a teacher shortage is like striking gold, he said.

“It’s, hmm, what’s more precious than gold? Platinum?” Hartford asked. “To get candidates who have a passion to teach students with special needs is really tough.”

If we put actual children first, as we all say we do, the right answer is pretty clear here.

TFA is not perfect, and it will not solve California’s workforce problems.  But the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.  And honestly our kids can’t wait for the politicians to solve our problems, so I am heartened that principals in SF are taking the lead, while others just talk.

What do you think?

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