I consider myself lucky. I was privileged growing up because I had access to a premier education. I grew up in South Gate, California and attended a Magnet elementary school with a bilingual curriculum. Instead of having music and sports programs, the school offered a great education where students with English as their second language could learn in both English and Spanish. Until fourth grade, all of my classes had a designated Spanish hour where I would read, write, and talk in Spanish. Since all of my teachers were either Latinos or Latinas, I never felt out of place or marginalized as a brown student. My school was outstanding.
My kindergarten class grew butterflies and baby chicks. I went on various field trips to museums and zoos. All students were encouraged to read and the principal gave out awards to reward students with high reading stats. Every year different groups would visit our school and hold events. Sometimes groups would give artistic performances and other times they would do scientific presentations. Once, a science bus was stationed at our playground and my fourth grade class got to see how fossils were made. Overall, my elementary school education not only prepared me for my future studies, it instilled in me a passion for learning. I can say the same about my middle and high school experience. I have been extremely lucky to have had great teachers and great schools in my life, all of whom were not Teach for America participants.
Teach for America is a teacher fast-tracking program. If you want to be a teacher and kind of forgo some requirements, you can. I say “kind of” because all Teach for America corps members will eventually have to meet these requirements if they stay within the field of education, they just don’t have to meet them before they start teaching. This is my biggest opposition to the program. The amount of preparation corps members go through is not nearly enough to compensate for the institutional and in-class difficulties teachers face, especially in urban settings. Participants of Teach for America are placed in urban or high-need settings, schools were even experienced teachers have trouble succeeding. Corps members can start teaching immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree, they only have to go through a summer workshop which amounts to less than 2 months of general training. After two months, corps members are released into schools as heads of their own classrooms. No corps member has to have a credential or license (which are required in many states) to teach.
In the state of California, to even be considered as a contender for a teaching credential, you have to meet various requirements. The most prominent of these requirements is the teacher preparation program. While the curriculum for different teacher preparation programs varies, all programs must be approved by the state and must have some component of student teaching were participants are observed and evaluated on their performance. Furthermore, potential teachers have to take the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) and meet 100% competency for their desired discipline. CSET exams are notoriously difficult and sometimes the 100% competency is waived for individuals that go through additional teacher preparation programs. However, to gain admittance to a teacher preparation program, applicants almost always have to have some sort of pre-classroom experience where they either worked/volunteered as a teaching aid or helped prepare lesson plans. Almost always, the minimum time frame from earning a bachelor’s degree to obtaining a preliminary California teaching credential is two years. California teachers go through at least two years of studies, observations, and guidance to be prepared enough to run their own class.
Teach for America participants are thrown into high-stake classrooms with little experience and preparation. Many are not prepared to be a part of school systems that are historically undeserved and underfunded. Even though Teach for America recruits the brightest students from the U.S.’s most prestigious universities, the program’s methodology perpetuates the assumption that the reason America’s education system is failing is because we don’t have enough good teachers, and that if only we put bright students into failing schools, we’d all see improvements. This mentality is ridiculously wrong.
Not every teacher is great at teaching, and some teachers shouldn’t even be teaching, yet the fact remains that even if we remove all these bad teachers that are not interested in inspiring young minds, there are still problems we’d have to fix. Problems like teacher support, women’s rights, racism, poverty, and countless other issues need to be fixed before being confident that the American education system is doing better. Teach for America, only a two year commitment, underpins the amount of preparation teachers have to go through to become teachers. The program doesn’t prepare members for the high levels of poverty, an issue very relevant to many of the schools corps members work at, present at their schools and the program leaves many corps members without the slightest idea of how to properly manage a classroom.
I know and understand that many Teach for America participants are interested in education, and many of them eventually become great teachers. I do not want to undervalue that. However, the program, as much as it is trying to make America’s education system better, is not the solution to our current education crisis. Placing inexperienced teachers in overcrowded classrooms is not a solution and many ex-Teach for America members agree.
As someone interested in education, I am strongly against any kind of fast-tracking program that does not prepare a teacher. Aspire Public Schools‘s Teacher Residency Program is an amazing alternative to Teach for America. The program is 4-years long and is structured to gradually allow participants to lead their own classrooms. Residents are able to obtain a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction as well as a California preliminary teaching credential.
I encourage anyone interested in education, especially those that want to become teachers, to understand the importance of a traditional path to obtaining a teaching credential. Teaching isn’t easy and fast-tracking programs only undervalue the profession as a whole.