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Unprepared and knowing it

[This editorial was originally published in the March 6 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Would you want a doctor who had completed one year of medical school instead of four? A lawyer who had finished only one semester of law school?

In other professions, we assume that practitioners will have proper training.

But for teachers, a dangerous sort of denial has taken hold about the preparation needed to be effective in a classroom.

It is as if our society had tacked up a sign: Teachers wanted. Little training required. The less experience, the better.

Two programs that may promote the belief that teachers require minimal preparation are Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows.

The UFT counts among its ranks thousands of Teaching Fellows and a handful of Teach for America teachers. The union proudly represents them and honors their good work. But many of them have a hard time in their first few years given the gaps in their training.

The Teaching Fellows program was founded in 2000 when the city faced a shortage of certified teachers. Its participants receive a crash course of six weeks of training before they are placed in high-need schools while continuing their graduate work after school and on weekends.

Reports over the years have documented that a significant number felt unprepared for the classroom. This concern has surfaced again in a new UFT survey of teachers. Among respondents, Teaching Fellows were more than twice as likely to rank their training as poor or fair as teachers certified through traditional college programs.

Since 2005, the city has had contracts totaling nearly $50 million with The New Teacher Project, which runs the Teaching Fellows program. We urge Chancellor Fariña to evaluate that contract closely to determine if it serves the city’s needs.

Also under the spotlight recently is Teach for America, which requires only a two-year teaching commitment from its participants and gives them just five weeks’ training before placing them in high-need schools. The organization Students United for Public Education has a new Twitter campaign, #ResistTFA, that has generated a hugely popular twitter chat about the controversial program.

The chat may be the start of an important debate.

Teaching is both one of the most rewarding and the most challenging jobs. To do it well, teachers need and deserve excellent preparation. And children need and deserve well-trained teachers.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 phyllis c muray
    · Mar 14, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was inspired to write: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The lamp beside the golden door which she referred to in The New Colossus , was a lamp of liberty. That lamp must still offer a promise to all American citizens. It must be the promise of an America where free public education and an opportunity to” breathe free” offers hope to all of our tired, poor, and huddled masses. If the early immigrants were enabled to brave the condescension which they found on the “teeming shore” to carve out a better future for themselves and their descendants, surely our new immigrants ,and the poor of this great nation, must be allowed to have the same opportunity. Therefore, I agree with Mayor de Blasio. Every child in the city has the right to a good education. And he wants to make sure that happens. Certainly, this would mean placing highly qualified teachers in classrooms as well as providing teachers with the resources and the constructive mentoring teachers need in all classrooms. It will also mean unraveling the previous 12 year legacy of error. Charter schools which are public schools must become more inclusive. Their golden door must open to students with disabilities,students that have limited English proficiency, and students that are economically poor. “Separate but equal” can no longer serve as the new norm for Department of Education underwritten- co-located charter schools in public school buildings. Gone are the days of segregation and discrimination in public facilities. Students and staff must also reflect the diversity that is found within America. We must realize that an investment in a human soul, which Mary McLeod Bethune spoke of as young diamonds in the rough,, come in many different hues. Surely,once we have true equity in education, parents, teachers, and students will be assured that some of the intrinsic “destructive tactics” of charter schools will be eviscerated. Phyllis C. Murray