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.