The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

In Rent Control, I mentioned that I'd attended an NYC conference about teaching. Here is a short write-up about that conference. It's by Pete Fishman. He used to teach at Academy of the Pacific Rim. Now he's an associate for New Schools Venture Fund.

The (conference) includes both institutions of higher education, such as Stanford, University of Southern California, University of Michigan, and University of Washington, and entrepreneurial teacher preparation programs, including Teacher U, Urban Teacher Center, Boston Teacher Residency, Academy for Urban School Leadership, MATCH Teacher Residency, The New Teacher Project, and TFA itself.

...Together, they represent a range of program models, yet share a belief that, in the words of a New York Times Magazine cover story earlier this year, better teachers can be built.

I chatted with my friend Brent about a bullet point in his presentation: "Navy SEAL?"

He said their team was musing: What if we have 2 standards, a fairly high and a really high -- Navy SEAL? This might be applied to admission, training itself, and/or exit criteria.

Our team has often wondered the same thing. Our business plan from 2007 used a slightly different metaphor: "Green Beret” caliber teacher. (That's the Army's special forces). Our goal is that every single teacher graduate is a really good rookie. We definitely haven't gotten there yet.

With a program as small as ours, you'd think it'd be possible. With larger programs, like a state university, perhaps they'd create something for a select few, even as they continue their traditional work.

I wondered: in the military, who makes it OUT of special forces training? I thought this post, on Yahoo Answers, was interesting.

A kid asks:

I signed up for the Army via 18X contract at the end of March, currently awaiting OSUT. I realize that, as an X-ray, my chances are slim at best.

Note: An X-ray means someone who applies straight to special forces. A more typical applicant is someone who has already been in the military for a few years. Kid continues:

I've been told that, should I fail due to any reason other than VW (voluntary withdrawal), medical discharge or gross misconduct, I will be given the chance to attempt SFAS again in 4-8 months' time; is this actually the case?

A former Ranger answers:

Depending on why you were a non-select, you can be invited back or you may not be, really depends. Non-selects get invited back all of the time; those that return go away, prepare, fix their shortcomings and come back when they're ready.

I will warn you that your thinking is putting you on dangerous ground. You have so much doubt you are forming a "back up" plan and that is going to bite you. Your ONLY option right now is to make it. Period. Nothing else should be in your mind. Fix that.

....Don't even think about failing and don't play for what happens IF you do. I promise, that will bite you.

You have one option right now and one option only and that is to get through SFAS. Once you do that, your only option becomes getting through SFQC. Get your head straight. Now go do some pushups and think about your one goal.

I looked up the outcome options from this 1 to 2 year training.

Those who quit are Voluntarily Withdrawn (VW) by the course cadre are generally designated NTR or Not-to-Return. This generally ends any opportunity a candidate may have to become a Special Forces soldier.

Candidates who are "medically dropped," and who are not then medically discharged from the military due to serious injury, are often permitted to "recycle," and to attempt the course again as soon as they are physically able to do so.

Candidates who successfully complete the course but who are "Boarded" and not selected ("Non-Select") are generally given the opportunity to attend selection again in 12 or 24 months. It must be noted, however, that the time window to attend SFAS a second time can be heavily influenced by deployment schedules, as "non-selected" candidates are assigned to infantry units in the meantime.

Three thoughts:

1. The Ranger's advice makes sense. If you want to succeed in a high-poverty school, at some point you have to go all-in, or you'll fail. See: Will You Marry Our Approach, Or Do You Want To Date It?

I contend that the job of a teacher prep program should be to help you make that decision sooner (pre-training, or during training) rather than later (Year 1 of teaching, when you're already deployed and kids count on you). See Healthy Exit.

2. So perhaps we can end up with 3 types of teacher prep programs:

a. Larger programs that are like the military -- regular Army (professional, able, competent) and Green Beret (select few).

b. Small programs like ours that dream of being Navy SEAL -- where all a principal would need to know is that X graduated MATCH Teacher Residency grad, and boom, you'd want to hire her, sight unseen. Again, we're definitely not there yet.

c. Special forces training for more experienced teachers. I've never heard of such a thing actually existing. One of our founding teachers, Bob, has wondered about getting training like that.

I have heard a proposal for such an institution: by a guy named Tony Klemmer. His calls his idea the "West Point" of teacher training.

{Hmm. I wonder if the SEAL/Green Beret analogy is more precise for Tony's effort than West Point. He seeks to train good teachers with a few years experience to become great. My understanding* is that West Point is mostly an undergraduate college that mixes traditional undergrad with military training -- it's for rookies who aspire to become officers. Maybe Tony can clarify in the comments.}

Anyway, I'm hoping Tony's effort gets traction.

Bottom Line:

Whether it comes in the form of rookie training, or for more experienced teachers, there's a niche need for teacher special forces, both

a. on the supply side (schools that need SEAL teams, rather than traditional turnarounds with new principal and random collection of new teachers) and

b. on the demand side (teachers who covet ruthless training and the toughest assignments, simply because they're motivated by desire to push themselves to max).

* * * *

*This is what I recall from 1986, when I spent a week before my senior year of high school at West Point. A recruiting thing. Like summer camp: sports all the time, except for classes, like Russian. I wonder if they teach Arabic now. Food: plentiful, terrible. Anyway. Road not taken. Probably a good thing: would have chewed up a nerd like me. Though who knows. Maybe I'd have emerged as a stud.