Corporate profiteers continue to drive the debate around education reform in our public schools. Many contend that pushing highly-qualified educators out the door and hiring less-experienced ones is a cost-effective strategy for staffing challenged schools. Anyone who has experienced difficulties obtaining that first job due to “lack of experience” should grapple with the cognitive dissonance of inexperienced instructors portrayed as a reasonable option for one of the more important tasks in any society: conveying knowledge and cognitive skills to the next generation.
Please, do not believe this agenda is educationally sound or serves the best interest of children! This misguided strategy accomplishes little except the creation of exploitable space in education budgets in order to pillage the public coffers while padding the bottom line of business interests. To accomplish this goal, the privateers need only work systematically to destroy the public’s confidence in those who devote their lives to children. That goal has nearly been achieved, much to our collective chagrin, by consecutive decades of teacher bashing.
Teaching is more difficult than most imagine. Great teachers usually require six to eight years to build a varied repertoire of instructional strategies to meet the needs of all learners. However, most reject the lifestyle of ceaseless labor and abandon the profession long before achieving a thorough mastery of pedagogy.
Today, career educators are advancing the cause of more rigorous teacher preparation standards, peer assistance and review programs, and certification by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. At some point, though, improving academic achievement will require a bit shorter row to hoe for classroom-based educators.
Unfortunately, much of the public appears willing to accept the premise that a few weeks training and youthful zeal suffice for entry into the teaching profession. Welcome to the world of Teach for America and encouraging dilettantes to use the nation’s classrooms as stepping stones on a career path away from the day-to-day grind of delivering instruction.
Touted as part of the solution for supplying teachers in difficult-to-staff schools, Teach For America candidates receive egregiously insufficient training in pedagogy prior to entering the classroom for on-the-job apprenticeships. Then, they spend a couple years in the most challenging education environments imaginable. Unfortunately, TFA candidates are not immune to the well-documented travails of beginning teachers.
A case might be made for the program if, and only if, these “alternatively certified” teachers demonstrated better practice in their first year, or more resiliency in the long term, than do “classically trained” educators. Unfortunately, as a cohort, they do neither.
No affluent community would permit, let alone “encourage”, these marginally prepared educators to staff America’s neighborhood schools just as nobody would board an aircraft piloted by a trainee with zero hours flying solo. Instead, communities where children exhibit the greatest need for highly-effective, experienced educators find themselves locked in the annual cycle of volunteering at recruitment fairs and employment agencies seeking to replace the career educators they should have worked harder to retain in the first place.
[The original version of this “Commentary” appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on Thursday April 10, 2014. ]