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August 04, 2009
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Yesterday Gov. Kasich signed long-awaited legislation to enable Teach For America to have a home in the Buckeye State.?? Now that legislation is official ? and TFA can place teachers across all grades and subjects (the primary barrier for the last two decades) ? several important questions are cropping up. With which districts will TFA partner? How can it expect to place teachers as districts ? especially large urban ones like Cleveland that are likely TFA partners ? are laying off veterans? How can Ohio avoid headlines like this, and avoid tossing new corps members into a controversial thicket like what's happening in Kansas? (A friend emailed me right away to express excitement about the bill but as a traditionally trained teacher, this was her first question ? do you think TFAers should take jobs during layoffs? I had no good answer for her. I bet TFA will struggle with this one.)
Beyond the obvious questions about TFA's move onto Ohio soil, several other things stood out from the bill signing. First, despite wide-ranging support for the program, there's still a lot of opposition to the program and until teachers are working successfully in classrooms to bust some myths, I don't expect that to go away.? Second, it shouldn't be surprising but is interesting nonetheless how the governor took credit for bringing TFA here (he drew a direct line between mentioning TFA in his State of the State speech, and the swiftness with which legislation was passed). But it was good to see the legislators who introduced both sets of bills standing by his side (along with countless aides who worked hard?to get it?passed). Third, Kasich is known to speak off the cuff, but this comment certainly made most people bristle and gives opponents of TFA something absurd to glob onto, unfortunately. But over time, hopefully criticisms of the program will erode.
It was pretty cool to watch a piece of legislation actually get signed (and it takes forever with all the switching of the pens) ?cooler than I'd anticipated. As an alum and a proud Ohio native, it was hard not to feel emotional, actually. While others were focusing on Kasich's remarks, or wondering about the impossible budget situation facing districts and the uphill battle TFA may face, or feeling irritated by leading questions asked by reporters (I felt all of those things to some extent), the clearest thought in my head was of my own kindergarteners in Camden; the mix of pride and sadness I felt when packing up my classroom and driving away from New Jersey; the incredible 12-sentence essay that Freddy wrote that one time; the improvement in not just DuKwan's reading over time but his new-found enthusiasm for school. I think all of us alums were feeling that when we stood up there with the governor.? That's the thing about being a teacher? it makes you a perennial optimist, and too sentimental for your own good, at least when it comes to kids.