Taking The Alternative Route To Teaching

Hey John,

Your post about the NCTQ report on teacher preparedness got me thinking about my own experiences as an NYC Teaching Fellow. Obviously, in more liberal circles, alternative certification programs get a bad rap, and rightly so. Teacher For America went from a well-meaning domestic Peace Corps to mercenary corps of teachers-for-hire. Whenever massive layoffs happen in education, TFA seems to be conveniently predisposed to replace the staff, and with that comes a disposable and often inexperienced group of adults. Similar programs had started after TFA, and that includes the NYC Teaching Fellows (and others in big metropolitan areas).

Obviously, when I first walked into the building as a full-time teacher, I never mentioned I was part of this program. The stereotypes had already penetrated the whole school system. The teachers coming in through these programs were generally white, middle-to-upper class, stuck up, pretentious, and looked down at the kids they taught. The other teachers in the program were generally of color (Latino or Black), old school, stubborn, and didn’t know how to teach the material with passion and energy.

I never bought into any of it, and that’s why NYC Teaching Fellows worked for me.

When I graduated, I had a degree in computer science and 20 thousand dollars in debt from Sallie Mae. Neither of these were particularly useful, but I decided sometime during my unemployment that I would follow my passion instead of my background and go to teaching. At the time, I didn’t see another four years of college as feasible. Frankly, I wanted to teach since junior year of college, but wanted to secure something just in case teaching didn’t work out.

In some ways, I tripped and fell in love with what I do now.

With that said, I consider myself an exception to the rule. While NYC Teaching Fellows prides itself on trying to keep teachers in the classroom (unlike TFA), the perception is strong that those who go through alternative certification programs only meet their minimum requirements for their degree and then move along to a different profession. That’s not the sort of example we want, and we need to find ways to assure that we can keep people who do well in the classroom to stay there.

In our recruiting, perhaps we need to consider the motives for doing the job, too.

Also worth saying: I didn’t exactly feel prepared to teach, but I’ve also found that very few of us are. Having a class all by yourself is a daunting experience. Having experience under your belt is great, but so is constant and targeted professional development. Having some sort of way for teachers to consistently learn how to do their jobs matter makes a big difference, and if the support really isn’t there, then teachers might not have many alternatives.

  • marsharatzel

    Another alternative path teacher

    Dear Jose and John,

    I’m another alternative path person….and I actually think it makes me a stronger teacher.  How counter is that to the prevailing winds?

    For me, I majored in economics and math….and worked as a hospital administrator.  So imagine how un-education major I was.  I was definitely a numbers and bottom line kind of person (and actually still am at heart but I temper it so I fit in better to the teacher culture).  I really hated all the methods courses….because I thought they were pretty fluffy and not really very practical in helping me.

    I really believed I learned to teach from the team mates I had in my first job. They taught me classroom management…and everyone knows you can’t do anything until you know how to manage your students and build trust. They were seasoned professionals…and they took all the pie-in-the-sky stuff that I heard in those methods courses and the books I read….and made it real. 

    I guess that’s why I think it’s pretty reasonable to think you learn the theoretical stuff in any teacher prep program and then really learn how to teach by doing.  I’d be all for teacher prep programs that are much more heavily weighted to get you out of the college environment and into the real world as fast as possible.  I know that’s pretty unrealistic too.

    From my work as a adjunct professor for graduate students, I hear the undergraduate professors speak about the capabilities of 18 and 19 year olds to really do this kind of work.  If you think about our profession…..it isn’t easy and I completely understand a young person’s lack of ability to put what they know (and probably don’t know) into action.  They don’t see this as a realistic thing to do.

    So that leaves me wondering…..should we really encourage teachers to get their degrees in something other than education?  Wouldn’t that actually prepare us to be much more expertise in what we offer our students….maybe alleviating the dillemma I see so many teachers in when they don’t know something they’re required to teach.  (I don’t know about where you work, but loads of teachers avoid math and science like the plague because they feel uncertain and unprepared to teach those subject.  And it just kills me when they proudly announce they can’t help out with extra study sessions because they “don’t know how to do fractions”.  What learned adult should ever admit that?)  so maybe it would be better if we didn’t major in education.

    Then you get your undergraduate degree and with that apply to a school of ed which can teach you all the theory, methods and internships/mentorships/student teaching experiences armed with the maturity of a 22+ year old and a solid degree.  I know I’m biased because this is the path that I taught and the way in which I learned the art of teaching.

    Is that a remedy for our schools of ed?