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Monday, February 17, 2014


I came to teaching through an alternative certificate program, the New York City Teaching Fellows.  I now recognize it and its more famous cousin Teach for America as myopic attempts to fix deeply embedded social inequities. 

When I became a teacher I had no idea that I was entering a battle for the very soul of public education. I didn't understand that alternative certification programs were a tool of the market driven reform movement.  I was manipulated into believing (and egotistical enough to swallow) the idea that wanting to "do good" was enough to remedy systemic injustice. That all "these kids" needed was a bunch of someones who worked hard and really cared (underlying message being that what they currently had was a bunch of someones who didn't do those things).

But it is the system itself that doesn't care. If it were otherwise, how could you explain the willingness to let the poorly trained guide the worst off?  Teachers who go through real education programs spend hours and hours being observed. They are mentored by experienced veterans. They have time to explore, compare and form ideas on the philosophy of education. They learn slowly and thoughtfully how to address the needs of the whole child.  

A teacher in Chicago put it this way, "Beauticians in the state of Illinois are required to complete 1500 hours of practical training before they can get a job in Illinois. But [TFA] teachers can take a whole class of needy children after just 20 hours of practice? Of course, those undertrained novices are only for low-income children of color. No affluent school would allow someone-however well meaning-with no training to teach their children." 

For years, my students had a teacher who was unqualified. As I went to school at night and lessoned planned long past midnight, I was less than I should have been. I excused it with phrases such as, "But I'm working so hard" "At least I care" and "I mean well."  It was wrong. I was wrong. I didn't know better then but I do now. 

So if you are considering joining TFA (or any such alternative certificate program) I ask you to reconsider. Let your good intentions lead you to do what is right and refuse to participate in a program that foists upon needy and unsuspecting communities those with more gall and guts than knowledge, skill or experience.  To do otherwise is arrogant and furthers inequity upon the innocent.