Teach For America and New Teaching Project candidates don’t get enough training. They make up for receiving only a 5-week crash course on lesson planning and assessment with boat loads of energy and enthusiasm.
Many TFA’ers join with the express purpose of teaching for only two years and then moving on to more lucrative careers. More still find their training has not fully prepared them for under-supportive and hovering parents, truant and transient students, and students’ non-academic needs. Additionally, most TFA’ers and NTP’ers are white, middle-class college grads who have a difficult time relating to their non-white, working-class or impoverished students. No wonder more than two thirds of TFA’ers and NTP’ers are gone before they’ve taught for five years.
But even traditional credential programs--those that allow for a full-year apprenticeship with a mentor teacher along with a full year of post-graduate classes on learning theory, educational psychology, and sociology--don’t adequately prepare pre-service teachers for the realities of teaching in America’s neediest communities. No wonder that they too leave the profession at an alarming clip, with one third making a long-term career in the classroom.
I think a possible solution is happening right now in the Long Beach, Calif. district. In a January 2010 interview, Long Beach Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser discussed how his district is working to better integrate teacher preparation with the schools’ needs:
Back in 1992, when we were basically redesigning everything, we started developing what was called the Seamless Education program. We met with our partners at CSU Long Beach and told them that the teacher education program needed to be redesigned, because we were actually re-teaching folks when they came into our district. To their credit, they had our people sit on their strategic planning process and redesigned their multiple subjects credential program. And now about half of the teacher candidates' methods instructors at the university are teachers in Long Beach. So teacher candidates are already getting the Long Beach way when they are at the university, and when they are hired in Long Beach we take it and we follow up with the next steps. So we do not miss a beat. The other piece that is really important is that when we redesigned these programs, these teacher candidates worked at our school sites as student teachers, but they also worked at our school sites as teacher aides. So they get employed that way.
In short, Long Beach K-12 teachers are working in hybrid roles. These teachers work part time teaching children and part time training the next generation of teachers at Long Beach State University. That is a part of the answer.
Another part of the answer is coming face-to-face with the issue of cultural competency. White, middle-class teachers have a hard time relating to non-white working-class or impoverished students. Conversely, non-white, working-class or impoverished students struggle to afford college.
What if a local school district were able to establish a foundation to provide college loans to the highest-achieving students? Then twenty percent of those loans could be forgiven for each year the graduate completes as a teacher in the same district. “I’ve created a visual to show how such a program, which I call the “5 4 5 Program,” might look in my district:
David Orphal is a teacher and small learning communities coordinator at Skyline High School in Oakland, California.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.