After 2 Years, TFA Star Says Good-Bye

Kaitlyn Shorrock gave a teary hug to a student—and prepped her kids to adjust to yet another new science teacher—as a turnaround school’s “best” teacher packed her bags after two years on the job.

Shorrock, who’s 24, arrived at Wexler/Grant Community School in 2010 as a novice, admittedly afraid of the daunting task at hand. She came from California as part of Teach For America (TFA), a national not-for-profit that places talented young people into disadvantaged schools. Like many other TFA recruits, she arrived with high ideals, but without a promise to stay for more than two years.

After a quick learning curve in classroom management, Shorrock emerged as a model teacher, the “best” in the school, according to Principal Sabrina Breland.

Shorrock has helped steer the middle school through a transition this year as it launched a “turnaround” effort, an experiment to revamp a low-performing school as part of New Haven’s broader school reform drive. Turnaround principals get to choose their own teachers and give them more leeway to excel.

When the Independent visited her classroom in February, Shorrock was torn between staying for a third year to continue the turnaround or leaving to pursue other goals.

Telling her students the answer wasn’t easy once she made up her mind, Shorrock said. She waited until last Friday, one of the final days of the school year. She told her students that in the fall, she won’t be back at Wexler. She’ll be in Spain.

“What does Spain have that Wexler/Grant doesn’t?” one student asked her.

She explained that she has been accepted into the Fulbright program, which pays for U.S. students to work as teaching assistants abroad.

“It’s an opportunity that I can’t turn down,” she explained.

Shorrock said her end goal is to become the director of education for an aquarium. She wants to do that in southern California, where lots of people speak Spanish. So she needs to work on her Spanish skills.

When they heard the news, her 8th graders “just started crying,” she said. Her 7th-graders, who had expected to keep learning from her next year, were “very mad.”

“That’s stupid,” said one student.

“That’s fucked up, miss!”

One girl “told me she was going to beat me up after school,” Shorrock recalled. The student later returned for a hug.

Shorrock said she knows leaving is the right decision for her career. But it didn’t feel that way as she said goodbye to her students.

“I feel terrible,” she said, holding back tears.

The TFA Dilemma

Principal Breland said Shorrock’s departure “is going to impact us greatly.”

“She was arguably our best teacher in the building,” Breland said. “We’re going to have to really work hard to get somebody who comes close to her.”

Breland said she plans to interview the first candidate Friday for Shorrock’s job.

TFA in general has drawn praise for sending young bright people into schools, and criticism for the trend of many young teachers leaving just as they get their bearings.

Breland said though she’s disappointed to see Shorrock go, she still sees the value in having “someone who can really help students move for two years.”

Shorrock “definitely ranks as the best I’ve seen from TFA,” she said.

Students are “going to be disappointed, because a lot of them like how she runs things in the class,” Breland said, “but they’re resilient.”

“Unfortunately, our students have learned to be resilient and they know sometimes that they are not going to get their teachers back,” Breland said. “It’s something they’ve learned to deal with.”

Another strong TFA teacher, Katie Williamson, is also leaving. She’ll be working at a charter school in New York City. Overall, three teachers are leaving and another two are retiring, creating five vacancies, Breland said.

Breland said hiring more TFA recruits “wouldn’t be my first choice,” but she will consider it. The third TFA recruit at the school, Jane Hosen, is from New Haven and is sticking around. Breland reasoned that local TFA recruits, who aren’t thousands of miles from home, might be more willing to stick with the school.

Meanwhile, Breland said she will “muscle on” and continue to grow as a supervisor and make sure the school is a place where teachers want to stay.

If we “make it as attractive as possible,” she said, “I think we have the chance of holding on to them.”

“You Won’t See Me Later”

As Shorrock prepares for her transition, she worked to help students through their own.

Tuesday afternoon found her standing in the back of the school, putting her students on the bus for the last time. Several came up to hug her.

“Be nice to your new science teacher, OK?” Shorrock asked one student.

“See you later,” Shorrock told another.

“You won’t see me later—you’ve got to go to Spain,” protested one girl.

“I’ll come back some day,” Shorrock replied.

Shorrock ended the school year by organizing the 8th grade graduation ceremony, which like her classes, ran with impeccable efficiency. The ceremony began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:01.

Running the show helped distract her from the emotions of saying goodbye to the school, she said.

She shed a tear as she gave a goodbye hug to 5th-grader Ashley Harris.

On her way through the cafeteria, she told Rania Riddick-Beal (pictured) that she will send a postcard to the school.

“Bye Ms. Shorrock. I love you!” called out another student in the hall.

“I love you too,” she called back.

She headed to her classroom, where all her science goods were packed in labeled boxes, awaiting the next teacher.

Shorrock said the decision to take the Fulbright was “simple” on paper. But it was tough to think about leaving her kids.

The year before Shorrock arrived, students cycled through several teachers. The TFA corps member who started out as the middle-school science teacher didn’t survive one year.

Surviving two years took a lot of self-control: When a defiant student would say, “fuck you, white bitch,” for example, she learned to calmly reply, “I see you’re having a bad day” and send the kid to the principal’s office.

“That wasn’t my knee-jerk answer” at first, she said.

Shorrock brought in a kitchen timer, laid out a rigorous structure and clear expectations for every minute of class, and earned a reputation as a disciplinarian. She said she hopes the next teacher gives kids the structure they need.

“It worries me,” she said.

“I bet it will be the most fantastic teacher,” she said, but it might not be. “Not a lot of teachers put Wexler/Grant at the top of their list.”

“Based on whoever was here before that didn’t stay,” Shorrock said, she has “a big fear” that in leaving, she’s shortchanging her kids. There’s “a good chance they’ll get someone who they give a lot of hell, or a teacher who leaves and they’re left without a teacher again.”

That possibility leaves Shorrock feeling “very conflicted” and “selfish” about leaving, she said.

In Spain, she’ll be working as an assistant teacher at a public school in Madrid. She said she’s not sure where she’ll end up after her one-year stint, but she plans to continue teaching disadvantaged kids.

“It’s a very good fit for me. God knows why,” she said. “They liked me and I liked them.”

Advice: “Don’t Yell”

To prepare her kids for her departure, she led her 7th graders through a brainstorming exercise Friday. They talked about what kind of behaviors—from a teacher and from a student—will lead to a successful year.

Students wrote notes of advice for their next teacher.

Several suggested continuing Shorrock’s methods—like throwing around a ball to cold-call kids on the answers, being “hyper,” “energetic” and even “strict.”

“Never yell,” don’t let kids say “shut up,” and “make us work hard,” advised one student.

“Be like Ms. Shorrock,” several wrote, against their teacher’s direction to provide more specific advice.

Fellow teacher Jason Schneider walked into the classroom and took a look at the poster.

“It’s a hard act to follow,” Schneider said. The next teacher is going to have to confront an expectation to “be like Ms. Shorrock” and instead find his or her own way.

Schneider, a former administrator who returned to the classroom last fall to get an on-the-ground look at a new school district, is staying on for a second year at Wexler/Grant. Though he faced many challenges at Wexler, he cherished the feedback students gave him at the end of the year: “You never gave up on us.”

Schneider, who was packing up his classroom Tuesday, agreed to store Shorrock’s poster for the next science teacher. An educator for 13 years and an adviser to younger teachers, he tried to disabuse her from the notion that she would be able to stay in touch with the next teacher to help her students over the next year.

“You’re going to have to let go,” he said.

Past Independent stories on Wexler/Grant:

Turnaround Teacher Finds The Rhythm
Prison Guard’s Help Needed Back At School
Breakfast Moves To Class
Turnaround 101 Draws From Ivy Halls
Pressure’s On As “CMT Olympics” Begin
TFA Teacher Hits Stride—& May Leave Town
A K-8 “Turnaround” Enlists Hillhouse Seniors
At “Turnaround,” Half The Teachers Will Stay

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 22, 2012  9:14am

Teach For America is nothing more then a Carpetbagger outfit.Read this.

Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 02/15/2011
Ravitch: The Problem with Teach For America
By Valerie Strauss.

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on June 22, 2012  9:48am

I recognize that not everybody is a lifelong teacher.  I don’t even know if I am.  But the points in this link/research article are relevant to our situation in New Haven, especially given that the context of “teacher shortage” that led to the growth of TFA is no longer our reality.

In summary, this is what the loss of social capital does to student achievement.  Is creating a revolving door of “the best” teachers the solution to improving our schools?  This research implies that the answer is no.

From the article:
“In our research we found social capital losses to be highly detrimental to student achievement. We compared the rates of turnover in each of the 130 schools in our New York City study and related those to student achievement. As we expected, the higher the teacher turnover rate at the school, the lower the student achievement gains the following year. But it also mattered which teachers left, in terms of their levels of human and social capital. When teacher turnover resulted in high losses of either human or social capital, student achievement declined. But when turnover resulted in high losses of both human and social capital, students were particularly disadvantaged. These results show that teacher tenure can have significant positive effects on student achievement.”

Authentic school reform is about building long-term community and trust, not merely about short term success stories.  Principals must keep this in mind as they work to hire “the best” teachers for the coming school year.

posted by: anonymous on June 22, 2012  9:50am

When can we create residency incentives for teachers?

posted by: HenryCT on June 22, 2012  11:24am

The U.S. has its priorities: 57% for war, 6% for education = proposed next year’s Federal discretionary budget.

Article author: Discipline is necessary but not sufficient. What else did Shorrock have going for her?

posted by: JohnTulin on June 22, 2012  2:55pm

“After two years, typically, TFA teacher quits”  (I am sure she is a great person and teacher, and this has nothing to do with her) but in my experience almost no TFA teachers stick around much past the minimum.  This turnaround only contributes to ‘failing school syndrome”, yet TFA (like ConnCAN and AF) want to create more of this with their version of ed reform. 

Hey, here is an idea:  raise the minimum to 5 years of teaching in urban environment for TFA candidates.  This would eliminate the opportunists and those who view teaching as a short term job and not a career.

posted by: RichTherrn on June 22, 2012  3:10pm

The fact of the matter is that it has always been hard to recruit and retain good science teachers that can relate to students. Especially in middle school. We continually have teachers change/leave their positions, schools or the district for a variety of reasons, and TFA teachers are no better or worse in this regard. I am always gratified when good teachers continue in education, no matter where it is.

Kait, as well as Tony, Christina, Shannon, Nick deserve our thanks for working so hard and selflessly for the betterment of New Haven students. 
They truly got that it was about the students, not them. We can be gratified that Kait’s “scientists”, as she called them, have been inspired to continue on in STEM careers and majors by her work.
-Richard Therrien
New Haven Public Schools Science Supervisor

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 22, 2012  4:05pm

When I graduated with a teaching certificate, I was recruited by TFA. At the time, their rules stipulated that a TFA candidate had to do their “tour of duty” outside of their home state. This requirement precluded me as I was raising a child alone and could not leave my support system for my child. I am glad to read that TFA has changed this policy.

I like TFA teachers and I like the way TFA trains their recruits to manage their classrooms. I also like the support TFA gives their recruits. This is very important for a new teacher—one needs to know that ones back is covered.

Which brings me to my point.

“RichTherrn” makes a good point about the difficulty districts have in recruiting and retaining teachers who can relate to students. The following, in my observed opinion, is the true reason for NHPS teacher flight:

NHPS administrators do not have the teacher’s backs. If it serves their executive whim, either for personal rear-end covering or for some budgetary slight of hand, then teachers quickly learn that “but for the grace of God, it could have been me thrown under the bus.”

And no, I have no inherent dislike for administrators. And yes, I believe that authentic authority and respect play a role in our school system(s).

What concerns me is the lack of results or the inability of NHPS current administrators to solve the basic problem of why teachers flee.

It is simple.

Stop throwing people under the bus.

And use your considerable power for good and not for evil.

Our kids will benefit from the resultant continuity of their teachers and they will know at a very basic level that they are cared for.

posted by: RichTherrn on June 22, 2012  4:37pm

I’m not eager to have you use this article to change this into a discussion or innuendos about school administrators. As noted in the article, this was not an issue for this teacher (nor is it for most TFAs).

I personally “left” different science teaching jobs, after 9 years teaching each level for a variety of reasons focused on professional growth.

I know the reasons science teachers “flee”, I talk to them all.  Most good teachers, as did Kaitlyn,  change to go TOWARDS something, not to “flee”,and don’t shift blame.

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 22, 2012  6:19pm

I must reply to “RichThrrn:”

Your attitude as revealed in your post is precisely the reason NHPS cannot retain talented teachers.

I apologize for being so direct but I cannot allow you to condescend to NHI readers or to me.

Of course this particular TFA teacher may have had the backing of NHPS administration.

Many do not.

But what TFA teachers have is the protection and support of the TFA administration.

You, and many other administrators, although not all, have your salaries, pensions, and fear of the mayor’s education cartel as your motivation for most of what you do.

My last assignment at Barnard School saw an incident where the newly installed, ineffective principal and your demoted predecessor as his ass’t principal, conspired to hide their ineptitude in controlling a bullying situation by falsely accusing a vulnerable DSAP teacher.

In fact, this effective, hard-working, and well-liked teacher by colleagues, parents, and students, was also maligned by the then Barnard administrators by saying that the teacher had low test scores.

This was a lie to cover their rears because said teacher’s cohort CMT scores reversed a downward slope from Grades 4-6 and Grade 7 cohort score was inversely positive. This was a teacher who was effective, hard-working, and related well to others.

This kind of thing happens under your watch.

This is not innuendo or sabotage or sour grapes or even disrespect.

This is the truth.

posted by: Tom Burns on June 22, 2012  8:44pm

Kaitlyn, Thanks for your time—and how you touched your students lives—it seems you are a talented young lady—and you should pursue your dreams and investigate other avenues that interest you—-for life is a journey and not a destination—my hope is that you reject the premise of TFA and stand for teachers who stay and have chosen a profession they love (selflessly)—TFA promotes the idea that you should teach for awhile and then QUICKLY become an administrator a politician an education guru so that you may destroy public education while enriching your self——I am sorry that I blog on your leaving—for I am sure that is not your mission or goal—enjoy your life—your passions—and thanks for your brief help in touching our kids—so many of you TFA’s reject the premise of its existence and are real people with a real moral code and a set of ethics that put others first—I have met those—and they have quit TFA and renounced their mantra—-and they have my respect—and Kaitlyn you have my respect also until you come back as a charter school operator or voucher proponent——when you do come back—be real and join us—the public school teachers of America who put all kids first and our needs and wants last—as it should be—
Or join the likes of phonies and clowns like Klein, Moskovitz, Jindal, Christie,Kasich, Snyder, Daniels, Scott and the biggest simpleton of all Scott Walker-Good luck Kaitlyn and thanks for your help—if Sabrina says your good—your good—Tom

posted by: Nicholas Banks on June 23, 2012  7:26am

This is the problem with TFA.  Two years?  We need life-long educators and learners, not short-timers.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 23, 2012  4:22pm

Wow.Check this out.

The Untold Teacher Story.

Why I Am Quitting TFA
by theuntoldteacherstory.

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 23, 2012  11:19pm

I truly hope that the NHI posts this.

Everyone in Ct. and the country needs to click on the link provided by our wonderful “Threefifths” posted earlier in the comments section of this article.

It is an essay by a former TFA-er and it is an eloquent testimony of what is going on in many of our schools.

This is a main reason I post about education—because I know that few people truly realize the state of our public schools.

And when the top politician in our state publically declares that teachers only have to show up for four years to get tenure, then maybe you start to get the idea of how deep and bizarre this rabbit hole is.

Again, please read this link provided by “Threefifths.”

And please NHI, do not censure this post—I have never typed something about education that was not true or that I did not have first account experience.

posted by: RichTherrn on June 24, 2012  6:31am

Don’t mean to sound condescending.

Education and teaching is HARD. It is hundreds or thousands of interpersonal interactions and decisions every day, often difficult. It is managing learning needs for over 100 students. It is interacting with lots of other professionals and community members with different viewpoints. For those that come straight out of school, or switch from another workplace, it is a highly different and challenging culture and environment. That’s not unique to TFA or DSAP or ARC or NHPS or any program, school, or city.

Being an administrator or educational leader is just as difficult, if not more so.. the decisions and interactions all have important consequences.

Not every specific situation, article, or experience (positive or negative) can be generalized.

As long as educators continue to be positive and work together for students, a difference can be made.

Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: TeacherA on June 25, 2012  10:47am

Of course, the TFA is the “best” teacher in the school.  Lower paid, willing to bend and break union rules…. who wouldn’t love her?  And anyone can learn in 5 weeks what I got a BA and MA to earn,( so they can be paid less and worked more).  Ever wonder why corporate America is so interested in public education?  Follow the dots…. C.A.S.H. C.O.W.