To the Editor:
A recent Teacher Beat blog post, “Teach For America Vows Recruitment Changes in Wake of Application Drop,” has prompted me to write. As a Teach For America alumnus, I would argue that the program’s assumption that high-achieving college graduates with demonstrated leadership ability can take charge of a classroom with minimal training is faulty. The entire TFA system should be overhauled and professionalized.
Countries that are best-in-show when it comes to education, like Finland and Singapore, require teachers to participate in rigorous preparatory programs. They treat teaching as a profession that is on par with the law or medicine. TFA, on the other hand, requires just two years of service from those it trains. The program justifies its minimal commitment by pointing to the likelihood that many potential candidates would not apply if that requirement were extended. But a profession demands a lifelong commitment.
Recruitment efforts ought to be changed as well. TFA should begin recruiting even earlier than students’ last year or so of college, as is currently the case, and it should target the top third of high school graduates. If TFA partnered with colleges, universities, and local or state governments, it could coordinate recruitment and selection by subject area in accordance with the labor market’s needs. Corps members could then complete their practicum in schools that have definite openings, thereby building relationships with staff, students, and families years before they are on their own at the front of a classroom.
Funds that are now expended on basic training could instead cover the cost of tuition at schools of education with such robust clinical programs as those that exist in Finland and Singapore. In exchange, corps members could remain at their placement school for a minimum of four years.
By ensuring that corps members were committed to the teaching profession before they step into a classroom for the first time, the teachers that TFA provides would no longer be a disruptive force in the communities they serve. Rather, they would be a source of stability, serving those communities well from the start. And that is a cause socially conscious young people can sign on to.
A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 2016 edition of Education Week as Alumnus: Teach For America Needs to Be Overhauled and Professionalized