Why did or didn’t Chicken Little (Pollito Chiquito) Cross the Road?

                                                                                                     By Kelly Dwyer  Exec. Director Teach a Teacher

Over the past two weeks Teach a Teacher has made the strides and the kind of sense that we were hoping to achieve from the program.  Laura Landstrom, originally educated at the University of Texas, Austin and current teacher at the District of Columbia Public Schools, soon to be IB coordinator at her school, has been the type of volunteer we are hoping to attract over and over again, through Teach a Teacher.  You will soon be able to read her blog entry here at the TeachaTeacher blog from her Point of View.

However, for some time I have let this important entry slip.

Why is this effort of Teach a Teacher so important?

Living in Peru has created a new found value for our own educations.  With all of its flaws in informing us that Columbus was a “good guy” who discovered “America” and writing 50 times “I will not…”  we recognize that even former education and its evolution through the years in the states, taught us critical thinking skills and how to continue learning throughout our lives.  It seems every day Mac and I share a story where there is a realization of missing pieces in the Peruvian education.


The other day an employee told me he needed to kill a honey bee because it contributed to the Black Sooty Scale on the citrus leaves!  When you smell a skunk it is because it peed. All snakes are poisonous and dangerous when no snake in this area is either of the two. The process of educating and re-educating many times over how to square a building or how electricity is not actually magic are common every day topics.  And while we are on the topic of chickens, a common belief is they won’t lay eggs without a rooster, or at least if they do, the eggs will explode when you cook them.

Laura has reminded several teachers in the Callejon de Huaylas how reading is actually thinking and how we must model that thinking to our students.  I remind her, myself and the teachers that all these skills and knowledge do not assimilate in a teaching practice overnight and my objective is to bring more volunteers to provide more and more ideas and skills for their own teaching tool chests.

Any elementary educator reading this blog entry, is sure to recognize this scenario (but hopefully it is not your brightest student in the third grade):


My neighbor Carlitos is a third grader at a local public school and identified as the brightest and highest achieving student in his class.  Anai, his sister, is now a first grader.  The first time they sat in my house and read the story, Chicken Little , I became critically aware of this particular missing piece in their education.

I asked the basic inference, prediction and character questions that any teacher or informed parent would ask.  “Why does Pollito Chiquito think the sky is falling? What is your opinion of Pollito Chiquito and his friends that follow him in his quest to inform the king? What is the foxes plan and what eventually happened to all the fowl and Pollito Chiquito? …why didn’t they arrive at their destination and inform the king?”

The answers were arduously drawn out and without much related and appropriate thought.  Pollito Chiquito was just being nice and wanted to inform the king.  His friends joined him because they wanted to.  And most disheartening of all, neither of them after much coaching and rewording of the questions was able to infer that the fox had tricked and eaten the fowl.

These answers came from country kids, who know foxes and whose mother, when I pointed out a beautiful eagle overhead, replied, “He’ll eat your chickens!” Remember, this is a third grader that does an hour and a half  to two hours of homework every night and was selected by his teacher to represent the 4 sections of third graders in a match of wits in a regional contest.

In  a small group reading session with the same book and outcome, a teacher who practices Balanced Literacy instruction would conclude that this very intelligent student needed work on inferences and predictions.

His teacher did indeed attend one of Laura’s sessions.  So there is hope for her now using some of these teaching skills and promoting greater comprehension in her class.  Carlitos’ education is enhanced in his proximity to me and his mother’s interest in education.  I continue to work on their skills in reading and urge their mother to shut off the cable and borrow more books!

I am nearly certain Laura will share that she has learned and had many take-aways as well from this experience.  She did an expert job in communicating that reading is thinking and how a teacher must model and involve the students in that thinking process.

post 1

I thank each teacher that showed earnest interest in learning these new skills and came out after a day of teaching to learn the basics of Balanced Literacy from Laura.  Teachers are the heart and soul of education and disprove time and again the world over that, you are “only interested in a paycheck and time-off.”

Laura laughed and shared, while reminiscing over our professional experiences, “It shows the irony of our and so many other educational institutions that a “teacher,” is the lowest rung in the hierarchy of education’.

 It is so often a top-down directed institution, where the TOP has literally no experience in a classroom or even educational theory.  Unfortunately it has become our job to educate across the field, up to the top and back down again.  Teachers are the relentless force that has driven true progress and enlightenment yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Keep it up.  It is terribly important that everyone know the importance of the honey bee.

And for those of you living in “Developed Countries” with “Developed Education Systems,” there is still time to get out and volunteer before the sky falls.


“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” 
― Carl Sagan


Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit and feeds our chickens almost every day.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

After a Day of Renewal, un Accion de Gracias (a Thanks Giving)

                                                                                                                                                                              By Kelly J Dwyer


I continue to be a cheerleader from afar of those voices of courage, battling the so-called Reform Movement in education.  A big resounding thank you to G.F. Brandenburg, Diane Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider for their parts in noticing and bringing attention to Teach a Teacher and my 3 part expo on teaching in the nation’s capital.  Thank you to all who continue to write, comment, demonstrate, protest and EDUCATE about the issues facing education today.

By resigning my formal teaching position, I have not given up on teaching or teachers. I believe education is and has always been our only hope as a planet and a species.

Teach a Teacher is the evolution from those beginnings and my experiences as an educator.  It is our way of continuing to give our graces (la accion de gracias) to the educators of the world.  We truly hope to lift up local teachers’ here in Peru by elevating the esteem for their profession and giving them a renewed enthusiasm for their daily challenges. On the other hand, we hope to give the volunteer teachers an opportunity to renew value to their often devalued professionalism and skills, work closely with another culture and travel on their often, more limited budgets.

With the advent of Diane Ravitch posting news of Chile’s end to state-subsidized private education from the Shanghai Daily News, seems Chile may be ripe for sharing professional development experiences as well. There is hope. Some are realizing the error in handing over public funds to private profit seeking entities. Hopefully they will learn to value the educators’ opinions in the path forward.  Anyone want to head up a Teach a Teacher-Chile?  If I could put a bug Michelle Bachelet’s ear, I would certainly say, “Look to Finland for guidance.”

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.   Vietnamese Proverb

Although I lean Buddhist and slightly pagan, through my traditionally and raised Lutheran self and living in a most entrenched Catholic country self, Easter will always have that renewal and rebirth connection for me.  On this day after the day of rebirth and renewal, let me pay homage to a group of sites I recently discovered that are solely dedicated to thanking and showing appreciation for teachers.

On these websites one can submit stories about their teachers and thank them:  Thanks for Teaching.us  and Teacher Shout Outs

or this Story Corps National Teacher Initiative project.

Unfortunately the only real “teacher” blog that took a moment to thank teachers: Dear Teacher/ Love Teacher  , thank you Teacher Love.

And this: on the Ted Blog honoring Ted presenter and educator, Rita Pierson.

Note: What my education has also taught me is to “Beware the Jabberwock” and other “wolves in lambs clothing”. Way, way too high on the Google Search for teacher thanking was Students First. org.  No link there, I hesitate to steer you in the wrong direction.  ;)

We so live in the time of doublespeak and truly deceptive language. Thank you to the teachers who continue to promote critical thinking skills, so that we may continue to have speakers of the truth disrobing the hypocrisy of phrases political phrases designed to deceive. 

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”    Gore Vidal


Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at:   www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and      at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.



Evolving and Devolving

The Education and Economies’ of North and South Americas’ Growing Likenesses 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        by Kelly J. Dwyer


Years ago when I first began teaching in Peru, I vividly remember the culture shock of returning stateside that year.  A small nearby town was celebrating the opening of their very own private prison. I couldn’t believe their glee. Did they not care about the disproportionate and rising prison population? I concluded that prisons would become their own mini-military industrial complex.  Once these private prisons were filled, they would become an economy dependent on the poorly educated and poor to exist.

The other issue that struck me with major concern is the growing momentum of vouchers and charter schools as a “fix” to education.  I knew immediately that it would lead to the same economic/educational structure that existed in Peru and other Latin American countries. Public  schools were for the poorest of the poor and anyone who had any avail of funds, sent their children to private schools. (Albeit not always the best in quality either).

I predicted that charter schools and vouchers would leave the majority of  the behavioral problems for the public schools.  Students who didn’t have an opportunity of choice of other schools (due to their socioeconomic status) would be denied a quality education just because they could not attend another school.  This has become the reality. And many of the children who attend these urban public schools will be the future prison populations.  

The Answer to Tomorrows Education Problem

The Future of Today’s Education Problem

In light of the New York Times article on the eroding middle class over the past weekend and folks like Senator Elizabeth Warren singing out warnings for years, I see that it has all come to pass and full circle.  The Daily Kos’ contributor Tom P contributed link and comment to both the NYTimes article and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s words. However, Richard Lyon’s comments on the blog were those that brought me back to that recollection of my certainty of where we were headed.

 This kind of bi-modal economy could perhaps be sustained if they can keep the revolution from erupting. It likely would look something like the historical configuration of most Latin American economies.

I think that a lot of the problem is that the American middle class has allowed itself to be deluded into believing that it is not an endangered species … which it clearly is.  IMG_3987_B

I struggle with the efforts to help Peru’s education system while I watch the decline from much of what the U.S. system once was. I rest assured that TeachaTeacher provides a rich experience for the Volunteer as well as helping correct a disparity.

It is certainly my desire that TeachaTeacher helps both Peruvians as well as our Volunteers with a perspective of knowing education for all, creates a far more stable economic situation and even better, doesn’t exclude the future world problem solvers, because we are going to need them! There is hope for both, we must believe.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

* Some images were acquired from Google Images  Thank you Google Images!

Part III of No More –The Best Thing I Ever Did as a Teacher

                                                                                                                             By Kelly Dwyer

Total Class

                      Data, data, data…NOT

From perusing this new found world of kindred spirits and fellow anti-corporate educational reform bloggers and readers, I discovered the notorious, Michelle Rhee, was a rookie contemporary of mine.  Those few and only years of teaching she did in Baltimore achieving miraculous, albeit fictitious test score gains, places her second year at the same time as my first year of teaching in DC public schools.

In part two I reflected on my first year teaching in DCPS (1993-94).  My true success in those novice years came in the next two years whereupon my principal supported my desire to stay with the same group of kids for two years (looping).

Besides gaining their trust, which began about April of the first year, we began our 2 years with a goal to go to Montana, my home state.  In those two years we raised money enough to pay for just about every part of that trip.

In the meantime, I had a supportive and enthusiastic principal who advocated using DC as the classroom. So much of what we studied, was followed with a meaningful field trip to enhance our studies.


In the culminating days as a two-year class, my students went to Montana by train. They kept journals on the land forms and states, towns and cities as we passed by. They went up in the highest building in the U.S. and picnicked by Lake Michigan between train changes.  They rode horse-back up the Rocky Mountain Front.

Ride of they lives

They lay on pelts as they listened to a true mountain man and Lewis and Clark expert, in an outdoor classroom shared by students from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.

Mountain Man

An individual from the State Human Rights Office (brown skinned himself) drove ninety miles to share his stories and slides about African American families who settled the west and particularly Montana.

experience 001

Some of the students floated the Missouri River, others visited old forts, they climbed up to waterfalls, they got back on the horse they fell off and a few went fishing for the first time. One student in particular caught his first fish!

Pen Pals

Michelle Rhee contended in her resume and appeal for the DC Chancellor position that she and her Baltimore teaching stint were featured in admiring profiles on TV’s Good Morning America – The Home Show, as well as in print in The Wall Street Journal and The Hartford Courant.  G.F. Brandenburg, sheds some light on the real story of the admiring profiles  as being either outright lies or grave exaggerations of the mention of her and her class.

Arrival 002

This rings with irony for me, as around that time, reporting on education wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. When the trip to Montana became a reality, my principal called The Washington Post to share what a wonderful thing one of her teachers was doing. The reply from the sardonic reporter she talked with was, “Did anyone die?” The Great Falls Tribune did however cover our visit with 4 articles and a column that still makes me teary when I read it.  The column was written by my father who was retired from the newspaper at that time.

column better

Oh, and by the way, I have the data. Although I would love to have the stats from their first year with me, I do have the CTBS data (standardized test of the time and the same of which Rhee’s students took).  The scores in the included graphs are from the beginning of their second year to the end of their second year with me as their teacher. Although at the time I was just pleased to have that as one more marker of their growth, I would have thought it absurd that one day those results would be the greatest marker of my success.

Ironically, I am certain this is what secured my rehiring by DC schools. Even more ironically in those four years I felt stifled and unable to utilize my rich knowledge and teaching skills with regularity. Not to mention, feeling devalued as one of those older, not-to-be-trusted, perhaps even bad teachers that must be replaced in order to reform education.

Math Ind Ind Lang

However, game on Michelle!  I would say this one year shines in comparison to what Brandenburg was able to recoup as evidence of your gains.

No professional would claim to have brought 90 percent of their students from below the 20 percentile to above the 90th percentile, but given the results I am curious to see how they did the year previously.

I don’t mention or show these scores to brag or even give them anywhere near the credence a “reformer,” would.  I show them because there was no teaching to the test, no test prep, no exact formula teaching that fits inside the rubric of the new teacher evaluations but there was trust by my superior in my abilities as a professional.

Individual Total Change

  Some of my students had losses (according to the test), some had terrific gains, there were chronic absences or other obstacles and problems. Yes, there were and are problems that a teacher could not and cannot fix!

Of course I continued to acquire skills and knowledge, through varied professional development opportunities and my own studies. I know that good professional development helps tremendously. That is why we are doing what we are doing here in Peru.

No telling how well my students would have done with that greater experience.  But there is really only so much a generic test can tell.

It is merely entertaining to go back and look at these scores in light of the last 4 years under the testing crazed Michelle Rhee regime.  Under that regime, I was ranked Effective for the first two years and apparently Developing this final year, which, despite constant changes in roles and expectations and plans, the last was actually my most effective year of the past four.  Every year the evaluation process was rife with discrepancies and inconsistencies.

I have caught up with students of that looped class and most seem to be well adjusted adults.  I’d like to think I had a small part in their successes… and more importantly in how they deal with their challenges.

going home bigger

Education is not the filling of a pail,

but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats 

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

Steve Nelson: Education Isn’t Broken, Our Country Is

Teach a Teacher Nonprofit:

So inspiring, so correct:

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Some months ago, I added Steve Nelson to the honor roll of this blog because everything I read by this remarkable man made so much sense. He is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, a fine New York City private school.

Yet he isn’t looking out for the self-interest of the private schools and their pupils, but for the good of American children and our society.

In this article, Nelson surveys the media moaning over PISA scores and says that the critics have chosen the wrong target.

Our schools are not broken, he writes.

Our society is.

Here is a sample of his thinking, which I share and admire:

We don’t have an education problem in America. We have a social disease. It is as though we are starving our children to death and trying to fix it by investing in more scales so we can weigh them constantly.


View original 428 more words

Teaching… no more Part II

                                                                                                                                                                                By Kelly Dwyer

I realize I am a tad bit late to the table  for participating in the Michelle Rhee debate, but that is because I was actually working under her dominion in DC.  While she had time for increasing her public image, I had no time nor energy for blogging, reading or being the life-long learner I had always hoped I was inspiring my students to be.  I was hardly learning anything excepting the harsh realities of the change in a system, ultimately limiting my ability to work effectively with a student population which had changed drastically in the years I had been abroad.

Perusing the exquisite chronicle of Michelle Rhee by Mercedes Schneider, I realized the quintessential TFA legacy herself, was a contemporary of mine.  Michelle Rhee was doing her first years, or I mean her only years of teaching in the same years I entered the profession in Washington D.C.

I went back to school for teaching credentials in my late twenties and felt like many of the original TFA recruits, “I was needed and could make a difference.”

When she was supposedly doing all the miraculous things with her student’s: their test scores, taping their mouths closed and forgetting emergency contact information for her students; I was also a beginning classroom teacher in the next city to the south.  Ironically, I most recently received a score of developing, by the very system of teacher evaluation Rhee put in motion. (I’ll save that for another post!)

My first year teaching was not my best and this is to be expected. However, as the only white female teacher in my school, I was determined to prove I could do well by my students.  After having been purposely given ALL of the most difficult students in the fourth grade, they soon became known for their respect and quietness when passing in the hallways (without tape on their mouths) and took several trips around DC on the public buses without incident.

In the woods

A trip to Audobon’s Woodend was a turning point.  At that time, securing a school bus or federally funded bus to take students anywhere was nearly impossible.  In order to get to Woodend, less than 5 miles from the school,  public transport provided options that took over 2 hours in travel time!  However, I discovered if we walked 5 blocks to the Georgia Avenue bus, we would only have to make one transfer and walk through Rock Creek Park to get there. woodendThe trek, through the woods to get to Woodend turned out to be the best possible complement to the activities at Woodend.  Screams of excitement over their discoveries mingled with the birds and rushing water sounds.  All were trying to compete with one another for what they had discovered and what they were observing.

A couple of them found a tree gnawed away by beavers.  We all stopped.

“What do you think happened here?” I asked.  Eventually they arrived at the answer themselves.

 The discovery for me was what they needed most, the closeness of nature, the opportunity to wonder and question, and more opportunities to run through the trees.

on a rock 001

Now our resourceful teacher hands are tied. My teaching partner from this past year commented, “They think they have it down to a science and can account for what a teacher’s performance is only in data and charts.  They have forgotten about the Art of Teaching.”

In one school I taught since the reforms, we were expected to teach entirely in test prep mode from beginning of year. This was criminal to the point of bumping lower achieving kids from support programs because they were not on the cusp of making the school’s test scores look better. The cluster chair (the overseer of several schools in an area) literally banned field trips until the test scores rose. This is in DC, the home of the world-renowned Smithsonian! While students come to DC from all over the U.S., students of DCPS are staying in their 5 block radius, searching for reasons to learn and pass a test.

Peru, on the other hand, is a mixed bag of perplexing ironies.  There are aged people with plant knowledge that is unsurpassed by university Biology graduates, yet failing to have value to most or be passed down to younger generations.

We live in a virtual paradise. However mining, growing at leaps and bounds, offers many locals the only employment for economic gain.  Huascaran National Park, just a stone’s throw away, is overrun with cattle herds, throwing the delicate ecosystem (where wildlife is exiguous) in a strikingly imbalanced state.  And countless mining petitions are threatening it’s borders.

 Children I have conversations with, are unaware of the animals that are dangerous or not and so the entire population learns, “kill it if it crawls,” mentality. The lack of humanity towards the even domesticated animals leaves my heart heavy.

The educational system, until recently has been militaristic in a sense of the teacher dictates, the students listen, write, memorize and respond without question. This creates citizens who question very little and accept the status quo.

However, with an emerging economy, the country’s top officials are realizing the need for an educated populous.  How one begins that, is of course messy and slow.  Some of the advice they are getting is coming from the very “reformers,” and educational leaders from developed nations that have squelched the critical thinking/ life-long learner curricula of literally yesterday.

At Teach a Teacher, we hope to begin with one region and help teachers realize the more tools they have, the more they will enjoy their profession and their students the learning process.

We hope to attract volunteer teachers that love teaching and we hope to add value to their practice by showing our volunteers  how much they actually do know and have to give.

By making a difference in the quality of education  in this one region of Peru, perhaps we can show, most all teachers do desire to teach well.

…stay tuned for Part III: How my class matched up against the Michelle Rhee’s data and teaching experience (thanks to G.F. Brandenburg’s findings) from 2011

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly Dwyer is Executive Director  of Teach a Teacher nonprofit. She is a former teacher both in the U.S. and Internationally.  A native of Great Falls, Montana.

Teaching For America(‘s Corporate Agenda, no more!) Part I

Title TFA

                                                                                                                        By Kelly Dwyer

For the past few years I was trying to get to the place I am now, working on our non-profit to promote better teaching in Peru, raising organic fruits and vegetables, and helping my partner build a sustainable restaurant and inn. I am finally on my way to being here full-time to work on all of these worthwhile and meaningful projects.

DSC_0101DSC_0108Copy of back yard

I blew off the eloquent resignation letter so many fine professionals were writing and publishing as of late (in defense of their professions and against the war on education) and went instead for the bonus my district was offering if we resigned early. The district reneged on a technicality (which was never mentioned in their list of requirements for eligibility) and I was appropriately shamed by one of the many “kindergartner,” HR officers and former Teach for America (TFA) recruits when I called to question the decision.

I have been back in Peru for over three months and many times have thought how I need to get back to the blog. Mac has done a great job, but, as the educator in the family, I really have more of the material. Today, spurred on by The Atlantic  article, I Quit Teach for America by Olivia Blanchard, I break my silence and vow to continue to update this blog more often.

In 2008, after 9 years, my stint as an international educator in Huaraz, Peru dried up. We had already decided that we were going to do something that would give back to Peru and its public education system. Teach a Teacher plans were being made but not without the sacrifice of returning to work in the states for a few years to fund our projects here and attempt to finish my doctoral program. I was hired over the phone for my returning post in DC and had only remotely heard of the “great” transformations happening in my former school district. From a distance, it all sounded too good to be true.

My first thought on my new colleagues (mostly TFA recruits) was of their energy, enthusiasm and can-do spirit. Most of them were great people with good intentions. This was from the bottom all the way up, the same. My first sense of the unpreparedness of my NLNS (New Leaders for New Schools) trained administration was my mentioning to my new vice-principal many of the techniques and programs I had worked with over the years and how I might be able to help the inexperienced staff. Her answer was, “As long as it fits with balanced literacy that is fine.” Shortly thereafter I had heard the term balanced literacy from her so many times that I began to ascertain it was the only literacy buzz word she knew. The students of that school ran her as well as the principal and not at all the other way around. The place was a circus.

I was never allowed to help. To the contrary, was given a low rating on my first teaching observation, despite the fact that I had one of the chronic “hall-walkers” attention and a two middle-school students commented to me afterwards, how much they enjoyed the lesson and how they now understood the difference in writing a news article and other writing.  I was asked to teach the journalism elective in addition to my duties as an English Language Teacher.  I was also threatened by DC’s certification board as not being highly qualified for teaching that class; although I ran my own bilingual newspaper for 4 years in Peru, received my first BA in communications and grew up in journalism with my first job at the local newspaper). Please explain to me again about alternative certification!

The TFA’s on the subject of testing, data based instruction and teacher evaluations were great head-nodding believers and some of the second year TFA teachers were downright smug. This was during and right after the infamous Michelle Rhee had fired 266 teachers without due process from the teaching staff of DC public schools.

If I so much as mentioned the ruthlessness of the firings, I was told, “Well, something had to be done!”  The TFA teachers were there to save the day, until they started struggling with their incredibly difficult-to-manage classes.

Another observation I had upon returning, after having taught in the pre-TFA, pre-Testing, pre-Rhee DC; was by the massive TFA hiring, the district had gone back to predominantly white teachers. I thought,

Rethinking Education

Rethinking Education

“Where were these minority students going to get the idea that they too could become professionals, when they were confirming on a daily basis that their familial adults didn’t work or worked a menial or several menial jobs and all their teachers were mostly Caucasians and Asians?” The first thought I had as a back-up plan was to go teach in a community college and make certain more African American and Hispanic young adults became teachers. But that isn’t how it works, oh yeah; they are actually being replaced with these young 5-week TFA prepped teachers!

This is more than likely unique to a few cities in the U.S. such as DC and Atlanta where the populations are predominantly black and therefore in the 70’s and 80’s began to have a population of minority teachers. Please tell me again how the motivation to learn and achieve comes from a naïve graduate of a top university (whose four years are quite possibly already paid for) who hasn’t the slightest understanding of the lives of their new students, to the point that they buy into the fact that all of the students in DC can and will go to university, just like themselves. Perhaps they should have a look at this Atlantic articlefor a little reality check.

I and most all the professional teachers I know are fans of good professional development opportunities. It is the kind of useful knowledge and techniques that were perhaps missed or have since been developed in the education world that one can learn from and take something back the following week to utilize in their classroom or educational setting. One of the reasons I was motivated to return to DC as an English Language Learning teacher was the amount that was being spent on education in the district during Rhee’s reign.

I looked at the calendar full of PD (professional development) dates and was thrilled to return to a District with such bountiful opportunities promised. Unfortunately in my first two years I can count three events as the number of meaningful professional development sessions attended:

• One weekend well spent was presented by my marvelous and gracious coach and mentor, Dara Feldman. Her dedication to the Virtues Project is testament of an understanding that we cannot truly educate until we once again instill humanity and respect in our students.

• The second PD that I found educational and useful was again on the subject of character and violence prevention, called Second Step. The presenter was dynamic and convincing on the value the program. And she also gave us an education on the points of working with each of the generational groups in our staff. But alas, we were never supported to continue the use of the materials we spent the money on. I didn’t know of one classroom teacher who was to carry out and continue with the Second Step curriculum.

• The third was one I sought out sponsored by the Bilingual Education Office, which in my tenure of the last four years, continued to offer the best opportunities for true professional development in the entire District of Columbia Public Schools.

The scheduled professional development days were long drawn out and extremely mind numbing sessions mandated and created by the central office which concentrated on how we would be evaluated when the master teacher or administrator came to observe us and not at all about providing us with more tools to meet those benchmarks. FrameworkThe first week of preparation were spent learning about this Teaching and Learning Framework when every teacher should have been prepping entirely for the year to come.

There were 9 points on the rubric and each session throughout the year centered on one of those and what that meant. They truly expected to observe all nine points during each of their 30 minute observations even if you were possibly conferencing, tutoring or actually allowing the students to take charge or project based learning style, which would throw negate and contradict most of their rubric! 

The structure and demands of the Framework worked in contradiction of any sort of integrated style but instead took instruction back to the process of one skill at a time instruction, which often led to disjointed lack of  engaging materials.  As a second language teacher, I am a big believer in themes, project based learning and continuity which allows the language learner access to the material through interest, exposure and scaffolding the material.

My point being that if these TFA and other teachers were to become Super Teachers, turning the tides of the achievement gap, why wouldn’t DCPS not at least make its own quarterly lesson plans to teach the teachers highly engaging  and why would you not give them something to take away from the session to use? Instead the heavy thumb of the mighty handed central office just wanted you to know on what points you would be judged, but offered no actual techniques and tools one could use to work towards highly effective in their mandated evaluation system.

The turn-over that TFA creates is a problem as well for achievement and motivation. Most TFA teachers are on a two-year contract and can’t wait to move on to bigger and better things once they have finished their short-term commitment.southern desk Did you, at school age, watch the teaching staff change so abruptly every year that you did not recognize over half the school staff every new school year? I doubt many of you can answer yes to that question. And yet, most of the students in the schools I taught in these last few years were well accustomed to the massive exodus each year. It reaffirms their expectations of the absence of caring adults. I applaud the few TFA teachers I have had the privilege of knowing, who have decided to actually hone their craft and continue teaching.


This last year in the last school I taught, a teacher announced she was leaving a month and a half into the school year. Her third graders sat in tears and bewilderment, while their thoughtless “professional,” packed up and left. It threw a wrench in the year for many classes and teachers that were affected by her departure and a position for which a replacement was not found.

Many years ago, when I taught my most effective years of teaching in DC, I requested Looping the years 4th and 5th with the same group of children. class loopFrom those two years I could easily draw the conclusion that we not only need to get teachers to commit to a longer stay, but that the same teacher or group of teachers stay with the same group of students for at least 2 years. In the Waldorf  system the same teacher, ideally, stays with a group of students for 8 years. I guarantee you would be able to legitimately evaluate teacher effectiveness.

One criticism of this is the fact that students would be failed by having an ineffective teacher for several years. But I believe that human nature would take hold and require most adults to step up their game or get out. And they wouldn’t need the draconian chant from the omniscient voice of a fraud like Michelle Rhee of, “Go hard or go home!”

Also, if it were a group of teachers, the team itself could evaluate each other and provide peer pressure to work harder or possibly smarter. As an alternative to making the absurd demand of raising test scores of a class that a teacher has inherited from a long string of possible sorted histories like the year of the third graders just mentioned; we could allow teachers to actually follow through with the same group and we could demand results with some authority (not entirely based on standardized tests)!

In his post, Why I did TFA and Why you Shouldn’t; and TFA’s Three Biggest Lies, Gary Rubenstein points out the major defects of the organization and how a once good organization with noble intent went bad. And Katie Osgood’s An Open Letter to New Teach For America Recruits is the most thorough and hard-hitting description of why the organization has lost its way. It seems we are catching on to what was reported by Great Schools for America in May of 2012, linking ALEC, Stand for Children and Teach For America. Perhaps they should change the name to to Teach for Corporate America (This is yet another example of not reading the subtext or fine print on Education Reform, who want’s it and why.) Salon.com offers some more recent trends in Minnesota and more underling information.

As for me, I am no longer teaching for (The U.S. of) America and its corporate agenda. It isn’t just TFA that is to blame and it certainly isn’t the well-meaning, albeit naïve and uninformed, recruits. I often rail against the test drivers who forever have been claiming that we didn’t do as well in math and science as many Asian countries. But until just a few years ago, there was no such test that was even similar!

Bottom line is that the corporate agenda is to no longer produce critical thinkers for which U.S. schools were better known. They want the uninformed drones that can fill their low-paying jobs. Why else would Walmart be one of the top supporters of TFA? On the upside, with the publishing of Diane Ravitch’s recent book, Reign of Error the voices against the current, reform are growing louder. There is still hope.

In the meantime, I am hoping many of you fine professionals whom have enjoyed a long list of professional development opportunities  feel that you have something to share with teachers in Peru. Give us a holler! We welcome retired teachers with time on your hands, as well.  We value experience! The knowledge you have is valuable.

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly Dwyer is Executive Director  of Teach a Teacher nonprofit. She is a former teacher both in the U.S. and Internationally.  A native of Great Falls, Montana.