I woke up this morning more or less mollified to find this editorial in my day-old copy of the Crimson:
A recent report found that 60 percent of teachers did not feel prepared to teach after graduating from education school. An important step toward remedying this problem would be to introduce more practical training into the teacher education process. To deal with classroom management—which many teachers have cited as a challenge—especially at struggling schools, teachers should be exposed to a substantial amount of hands-on classroom training to improve their ability to nurture and develop the skills of their students.
Then this bewildering paragraph caught my eye:
Alternative programs such as Teach for America have shown the value of giving teachers immediate classroom experience and should be noted as an example of the value of learning through doing. As education schools attempt to reform and improve their methods, they should consider incorporating the ideas of TFA and the New York City Teaching Fellows program, which places novice teachers in struggling districts.
Let’s pause to offer a quick lesson on teacher education, for the uninitiated. Traditional certification models result in a university degree, typically a bachelor’s or master’s in education. Traditional teacher education includes coursework, but it also includes an extensive practicum – the standard is a semester of full-time teaching; Harvard’s Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (in which I’m enrolled, for the sake of full disclosure) requires a 78-hour pre-practicum and a 360-hour practicum. Alternative certification models do it differently. Some, like the Boston Teacher Residency, include a yearlong practicum. The juggernaut, however, is Teach For America, whose corps members – mostly teachers fresh out of college with limited education experience – teach two hours a day during the five-week institute, then go directly into the classroom. New York City Teaching Fellows have a similar seven-week summer boot camp that includes an ambiguous “field work” component.
My point here is not necessarily to pass judgment on TFA or any other alternative certification program. Arguably, TFA has succeeded in expanding the pool of potential teachers precisely because it lowers the barriers to entry into the profession. Rather, the bone I want to pick is with the Crimson. Are we meant to think that we should give teachers more preparation by dumping them into the classroom sooner? Is there some counterintuitive “less is more” model that I’m missing out on? Believe me, I’m all for “learning through doing,” which is why I’ve handed over my senior spring to 360 hours of “doing.” But I’m somewhat mystified as to why TFA is the Crimson’s model for a program that provides the kind of “hands-on” experience that gets prospective teachers feeling comfortable before they take over their own classroom.