TFA training left teacher unprepared for troubled school’s behavior issues

Print

Kyra Schugt felt it was shameful that Minnesota had one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, and she wanted to do something about it. She already had teaching experience- as a preschool teacher and an after-school art teacher and who had spent a year in Germany teaching English on a Fulbright. She researched programs that she could obtain an alternative teaching license and, in the end, chose the Teach for America program. Two summers ago, she did the five-week TFA  institute training in Chicago. 

At the TFA institute, she did her training and tested to be an ESL teacher, but her teaching practice was in sixth grade math. Ultimately,  Schugt wasn’t placed in an ESL classroom.. Instead, when she was placed at Bethune Elementary in North Minneapolis, she was assigned as a fourth grade classroom teacher. At first she was really excited to have her own class, butshe  soon realized that she was unprepared.

“It was challenging,” she said. “It was the hardest position I had ever taken on. I consider myself to be a dedicated teacher and just have a strong work ethic, but it was really overwhelming.”

Identified as a Priority School, Bethune had received a School Improvement Grant to have a couple of extra staff positions, and there were mentors for new teachers, who made up about half the teaching staff. Schugt said there was a lot being done to implement the school’s improvement plan, but there were many challenges. “Bethune is considered a lemon school,” Schugt said. “Students from the district that are kicked out of other public schools are sent to Bethune.” 

Schugt had 14 students. “They were all really wonderful,” she said, but there were behavior issues. Fights would break out in the class, and Schugt tried to step in. Though she never was severely hurt, she felt that stepping into those situations was becoming more and more dangerous.

At the time, Schugt also was going through personal and family issues, including the deaths of family members. She and the school reached a mutual decision that she wouldn’t continue. A behavior specialist at the school, who had worked with many of her students, ended up taking over her classroom.

Schugt went on Emergency Relief from TFA, which means she has three years to return. She declined for this year, but she’s considering going back next year at a different location. “I loved the staff and the students — it just wasn’t the right fit,” she said. “It was really hard to leave my students but at the same time it just felt like it was not in their best interest for me to stay.,” 

Schugt’s mentor from Bethune knew she was passionate about working in schools, and found her a job at Seward, where she began work as an associate educator four days after leaving Bethune. “Now I’m at Seward, I love it,” Schugt said.  

She’s not sure what the future holds, but is considering a number of options, including going back to school either at the University of Minnesota or at St. Catherine’s Montessori program, or going in another direction altogether by getting her yoga teaching certification.

She stresses that she thinks TFA is a worthwhile organization, but that the training institute should be longer. “It’s a great organization that’s addressing the achievement gap,” she said. “But it definitely needs to have changes.”