From Campus to Career: The Teach For America Debate (Part 2)
November brings crisp autumn weather, pumpkin spice everything, Turkey Day, and…millions of college students submitting applications for post-graduation endeavors! This time two years ago I was burning the midnight oil on grad school and fellowship applications. Eeek, glad those days are over.
One such post-graduation endeavor might be Teach For America, the program that places recent college grads as teachers in areas of the U.S. that need more educators in their classrooms. Since it’s such a popular program (35, 000 applied in 2009, about 15% were accepted), BetterGrads is exploring the organization and the broader policy issues it brings up in a blog series.
As I shared before, I ended up not pursuing TFA after my initial interview. So I talked to my friend and Oxy classmate (and sorority sister!) Jessica Cornick, who taught 7th grade science in Los Angeles as a TFA member, shared some insights into her experience with me.
Unsure of what she wanted to do after graduation, Jessica said that she pursued TFA because she thought it would provide her with a job opportunity while allowing her to see if teaching would be a good career path. Prior to starting TFA, Jessica had taught sports at summer camp and worked in a variety of tutoring jobs during college.
I asked Jessica about one of the central criticisms of TFA, which is that it puts young and un-experienced teachers in high-need classrooms. Jessica replied:
“Although many of Teach for America participants do not have prior teaching experience, they go through an extensive training program before they teach that provides them with the tools and knowledge necessary to maximize their teaching potential. It is true that there is a steep learning curve in the first few months of teaching, but watching other more seasoned teachers go through the motions in their classroom day to day is heartwrenching. While TFA teachers may not have the experience, they have the drive to really make a significant impact with their kids. I also have found that my lack of previous classroom teaching experience allowed me to be creative with my teaching approach which often resulted in the majority of my favorite lessons.”
I found this argument to be quite compelling. As someone who has pretty much stayed on the fence regarding this TFA criticism, this line of reasoning really sways my own opinion of this matter.
Seattle public schools, for instance, have recently been abuzz with debates over whether or not the city’s school district should sign a contract with TFA. The experience factor seems to be one of the biggest points of contention, which is completely reasonable—of course we want the best teachers possible for our children.
But Jessica’s points also make perfect sense to me. Energy, dedication, and enthusiasm matter just as much as formal training for success in the classroom. It is thus difficult for me to sway one way or the other on this debate—what do you think, where do you stand and why? Share your thoughts below.
And Jessica? She earned her teaching credential (concurrent with TFA) and currently works as a student loan specialist at Everest College. Even though she is no longer teaching in the middle school where she taught for two years with TFA, she has kept in touch with her former students as they enter high school.
And when they accept their high school diplomas in a few years, Jessica says that she hopes to be in attendance.
Next up: I’ll talk to some young education professionals who studied education in college and earned their MATs about their perspective on the TFA debate.