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Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches…

Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America (2008)

by Donna Foote

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Journalist's write-up of TFA that works hard to stay balanced. Since this book is now ten years old, its chapter on evaluations of TFA is outdated, citing only the Mathematica RCT as far as causal research goes.

There are some odd word choices in this book that I found off-putting. Female college students are frequently referred to as "coeds" which is gross. There are some strangely sexist descriptions of female teachers that I wasn't sure what to make of. Some strange instances of broad generalizations made about racial groups, too. In all of these cases, the author didn't abjectly cross the line into racism and sexism but came uncomfortably close for me. ( )
1 vote sparemethecensor | Jul 17, 2015 |
Donna Foote does a pretty good job of balanced reporting as she follows several TFA "corps members" through their first year in an LA high school. She represents their passion and energy, their disillusionment and "reillusionment", and their successes without completely endorsing The Program.

As a "career teacher" (kinda) and an employee
of a wealthy private school (totally), I am deeply conflicted about TFA and this book did nothing to bring me down on either side of the fence. These teachers are passionate, but utterly unpracticed (and untested); they are not yet burned out (and yet they almost ALL LEAVE when their two years are up, if they make it that long); they are only assigned to schools that ALREADY have gigantic turnover -- but they do seem to make a difference in their short tenure.

Two things that were somewhat compelling -- the principal of the school in question described his conversion from anti- to pro-TFA as coming to see them as soldiers. We have a volunteer army in which people enlist for brief, finite amounts of time (at least, we used to before GWB's endless war kicked in), they receive brief but intense training, and then they learn on the job, so to speak. (Although, as I write this, don't you think we might be doing a bit better in Iraq if our soldiers needed to take a tyear-long credentialling program, pass a Middle East proficiency exam and spend a year observing a "master soldier"? Hmm.)

The other was a quote from Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, who said that part of the goal of TFA was not only to provide excellent teachers for underserved areas, but to grow a network of Leaders who would have first-hand experience of educational inequity. So that, once they leave TFA, and go to law school, and then run for office, the Crisis in Education will be seared into their personal values and commitments.

That actually makes a lot of sense, copout though it is in terms of address the "teach-for-awhile" stigma.

My personal feeling is ... I was such a terrible teacher in my first year, and I'm so much better now. It has nothing to do with the ridiculously stupid and worthless credentialing program I went through, and everything to do with experience, confidence and SEEING OTHER TEACHERS DO THEIR THING (even the bad ones!). What we ought to have is apprenticeships, where you pass a few tests to weed out the total idiots, then spend a year or two being an OBSERVATIONAL AIDE in a classroom in the field where you want to work. You get paid, the teacher gets some assistance, you get to see how to do it or not do it, and then you've got experience to draw on before you ever enter a classroom. Fit some student teaching in there somewhere. Maybe some of the methods classes. Who knows?

And -- go year-round. There, I've said it. 4 days a week of regular curriculum, 1 day of enrichment or remedial instruction for the kids, 1 day of planning for the teacher. ALL YEAR ROUND. And all those teachers who took the job simply so they could veg by the pool in July and August (and because the coursework is sooo easy) can go work in fast food. ( )
  livebug | Sep 6, 2010 |
Does teaching have to be a twenty-hour-a-day job? Can it be a lifelong profession or does everyone burn out after a couple of years? Why is it so difficult? Why aren’t more children learning? How can we make it better?This is the story of a group of Teach for America teachers working in one of the worst schools in America, a high school in urban LA. Some of the stories were so horrible I couldn’t imagine how I would last a month. Some of the teachers produced excellent results with the students, although moving from an average reading level of third to fifth grade when students are in high school is still leaving lots of room for growth. ( )
1 vote debnance | Jan 29, 2010 |
This book follows the immensely popular yet controversial Teach for America (TFA) organization. TFA is an organization trying to close the achievement gap by putting educated 'teachers' into under performing schools for a couple of years. The recruits work on a masters and view the experience as an intense post-grad program. The book specifically focuses on 4 teachers placed in Locke HS in Watts, CA (a very bad neighborhood and school) and their experiences. I loved learning about their struggles and the challenges they faced. It was also enlightening to learn more about the education system in general.The author also reveals the reason why TFA works and why it doesn't, with the statistics to prove it. The facts/figures got a little overwhelming but the author tries to split them up between chapters. I still found myself glossing over those parts because it was just too much. Overall an interesting book with an important message that at least some people are trying to make education more standardized throughout the country. And after learning about their recruits, all I can say is if you meet someone with TFA on their resume, HIRE THEM! ( )
  mmillet | Dec 14, 2009 |
As a former Teach for America teacher who taught in Los Angeles, I could perhaps be the target audience for this book. Aptly named "Relentless Pursuit" follows the lives of four first year teachers and other young education reformers associated with Teach for America. Donna Foote captures many of the challenges, absurdities, and emotional highs and lows that come from teaching in an under-resourced school district. Reading about these teachers took me back and helped me to reflect on my own first year of teaching. I found myself nodding in agreement and reminiscing as the teachers shared their thoughts on teaching. Foote also addresses many of the criticisms faced by Teach for America. For the most part, I believe the teachers handle themselves well, and criticism comes easily from those not teaching in an urban school district. After the teachers, Locke High School is an overwhelming presence. For those interested in the challenges of teaching in an urban high school, or if your interest is for the lives of the students of Los Angeles, this book is an amazing eye-opener. Much like Jonathon Kozol's work, it exposes the disparity and challenges faced by children in school districts we pass by every day. Although the book combs over some of the inner workings of Teach for America (which is also interesting), its true value comes from its emotionally raw recounting of teaching your first year in a difficult environment. It heartened me to see Teach for America represented by such able teachers. Any teacher undertaking the challenges of urban education is a hero, and this chronicle further cements the need for energetic and committed individuals to enter the classroom. ( )
1 vote brianjungwi | Mar 19, 2009 |
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To the loves in my life:
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When the lights went off in room 241 during her fourth-period special ed biology class, Rachelle didn't think anything of it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307265714, Hardcover)

A revealing look inside a national phenomenon, Teach For America, which, since its founding in 1990, has pursued one of the most daring—and controversial—strategies for closing the educational achievement gap between the richest and poorest students in the country.

The story is set in South Los Angeles at Locke High School, an institution founded in 1967 in the spirit of renewal that followed the devastating Watts riots but that, four decades on, has made frustratingly little progress in lifting the fortunes of the area’s mostly black and Latino children. Into this place, which resembles a prison as much as a school, are dropped a group of “recruits” from Teach For America, the fast-growing organization devoted to undoing generations of disadvantage through a fiercely regimented selection and deployment of America’s best and brightest. Nearly twenty thousand top college graduates apply for two thousand slots. Then, with only a summer of training, the lucky ones are sent to face the most desperate of classroom environments.

Giving us a year in the life of Locke through the absorbing experiences of four TFA corps members—Rachelle, Phillip, Hrag, and Taylor—Donna Foote recounts the progress of their idealistic but unorthodox mission and shares its results, by turns exhausting, exhilarating, maddening, and unforgettable. As the four struggle to negotiate the expectations of their Locke colleagues (most conventionally trained, many skeptical) and the relentlessly exacting demands of the overseers at TFA headquarters (to say nothing of the typical stresses of youth), we see these young people assume a level of responsibility that might crush a seasoned educator. Limited training must often be supplemented with improvisation in a school where Rachelle’s special ed biology students prove to need remedial reading more urgently than lab work, while Taylor’s ninth-grade English classes show themselves equal to discussing Shakespeare. Through it all, these teachers are sustained not only by the missionary fervor of their cause but also by the intermittent evidence that they can make a tangible difference.

Without romanticizing the successes or minimizing the failures, Relentless Pursuit relates, through the experiences of these four new teachers, the strengths, the foibles, and the peculiarities of an operation to accomplish what no government program has yet managed — to overcome one of the most basic and vexing of social inequities, a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:46 -0400)

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A study of the controversial national educational movement follows a year in the lives of four Teach for America recruits at a high school in Los Angeles as they deal with the challenges and opportunities of the program.

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