Well folks, the numbers are in, and they’re not pretty. Last month the National Council on Teacher Quality released a report investigating what states are doing to “ensure that they are systematically preparing classroom-ready new teachers.” What they found might disappoint even the most disheartened among us, but probably won’t surprise most of you.
Here’s the summary:
|Delivering well prepared teachers to classrooms||D|
|Identifying effective teachers||D+|
|Retaining effective teachers||C-|
|Exiting ineffective teachers||D+|
|Expanding the pool of teachers||C-|
That’s bad news for all of us, but for those of you still working in classrooms with the stigma of being an “alternatively certified teacher,” this may strike a deeper cord.
All across the country, TFA corps members experience a backlash from policy makers and other educators who insist that Teach for America’s alternative path to the classroom is the main pipeline pushing horribly unprepared teachers into schools. But it actually turns out that underpreparing teachers is a national problem, including most traditional undergraduate and graduate education programs. But corps members are still experiencing harsh words from colleagues, administration, and the media insisting that TFA teachers aren’t as qualified to work in schools…aren’t trained to work in high-needs communities…the list goes on. It’s an issue that many of us have grappled with at some point. I had more than my share of tense encounters that kept me awake at night and tied my stomach up in knots. I knew I was putting in the late-night hours, jumping through the same administrative and state-mandated hoops that my colleagues were, and sacrificing my weekend freedom to construct innovative lessons for my students. But instead of feeling supported and encouraged in my work, I was flooded with continuous self-doubt. And in the eyes of my critics, I would forever be a second-rate teacher because of the way I’d gotten my teaching certificate, regardless of the quality of my work.
What made it the hardest to stomach was that, unlike many corps members, I’ve also experienced the interworkings of a traditional teacher prep program. I spent two semesters in a school of education that’s consistently ranked in the top 20 programs in the country. I made my way through the program requirements—taking pedagogy classes, making sample lesson plan binders, student teaching—the whole kit and caboodle. But everything I was learning was too theoretical, and my mentor teacher provided little guidance other than how to pass out the cookie-cutter worksheets she used each day. So I left the program because I didn’t feel like I was actually being equipped to work in the high-needs schools that I was drawn to. And then, two years later, I joined TFA, hoping to get more hands-on training and feel more confident when I entered the classroom. And go figure, TFA wasn’t the silver bullet either. Even with TFA’s time-intensive training and the fantastic mentors and coursework provided through UPenn’s Master’s program, I still felt I needed far more support and training to reach my potential.
So as you battle towards the finish line of this school year, keep two things in mind. First, if you’re feeling unprepared, you can be sure you’re not alone. Second, if you know you need guidance (lesson-planning, emotional support, or otherwise) you’re going to have to be your own advocate. Let’s start the conversation about what we need, not how we got here, and start leveraging the passion, creativity, and experience of our network, with no fear of judgment.
And maybe eventually, as a nation, we can stop arguing over which certification path put a dedicated teacher into a classroom, and instead build supportive networks, mentorship programs, and teaching communities to better train and support them once they get there.