Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Urban Teaching Corps?

I was all set to go to bed when I noticed this post on the eduwonkette blog. Given that I was less than satisfied with my last two posts (I was too busy to do much more than regurgitate what happened in those sessions) I felt pressured to write something a little better for anybody clicking here for the first time. So I clicked on the other link provided in that posting and found an interesting idea that Jennifer Steinberger Pease wrote about in EdWeek.

She writes about an acquaintance who wants to apply to Teach For America (TFA), but will already be certified and have a master's degree and, therefore, is not really TFA material (I checked TFA's website to see if they would accept such a candidate, but their description didn't answer the question in either direction). She feels that this teacher-to-be would benefit enormously from, and be ideal for, TFA, but sees no other comparable option available for certified teachers. She, therefore, proposes an urban teaching corps similar to TFA -- but for certified teachers.

I've thought (and debated) a lot about the pluses and minuses of TFA and other alternative certification programs but, honestly, such a scenario had never occurred to me (nor had such a solution). Jennifer does seem to have found quite the gap in the current system. I've had many discussions about whether TFA and other programs imply that teacher certification is meaningless, but never really thought about the TFA-quality people who are already certified. I'm not sure that there are quite as many people who want to teach in high-poverty schools but are unable to as she seems to believe, but I don't doubt that more would teach in these schools if they could enter a TFA-like program.

I can see only two major holes in her plan:

1. TFA may, in fact, take certified teachers -- I simply don't know. And if not them, many other similar programs might (The New Teacher Project runs a number of sister programs). I taught with the NYC Teaching Fellows (one of those sister programs) and I know that other people in the program had previous teaching experience (though I'm unsure if any were certified).

2. High-Poverty schools are not only in urban areas. Accordingly, TFA is not only in urban areas (I know two former TFA members that taught in rural areas in the Mississippi Delta and along the Texas border). So I would propose either changing "urban" to "high-poverty" or adding a "rural" teaching corps as well.

Normally new ideas for education have to be taken with a large grain of salt -- it seems that there's always a strong reason that they'll never happen and/or a large downside. I see neither of these with this idea. The easiest solution (but not necessarily the best), of course, would be for alt cert programs to simply start accepting certified teachers. Either way, this idea makes sense to me.


Anonymous said...

TNTP has certified teacher recruitment programs -


Specific program sites:

Oakland -

New Orleans -

California statewide -

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Right, they run a lot besides the NYC Teaching Fellows. I'm not sure if any of them accept certified teachers or not.

Jen P said...

Thanks for your comments and feedback on my commentary, Corey. TFA does not say that they will NOT accept certified teachers; however, all corps members must attend the TFA Institute to be introduced to the work of teaching, and my argument is that certified teachers already have a wealth of knowledge and skill related to the work of teaching (therefore, the Institute may not be a productive use of their time).

I certainly agree with you that a certified teaching corps should serve rural areas as well as urban areas. I actually didn't intend to focus only on urban teaching, but the subtitle that Ed Week added to the article does seem to imply that is my intent. Really, I would foresee members of a teaching corps teaching in rural Mississippi, Appalachia, and in other rural areas where TFA places teachers.

Thanks to the anonymous poster for noting TNTP's recruitment efforts...I am aware of these, but one of the points of my commentary (though it may not have come through clearly) is that this is an idea that needs to move beyond regional efforts. It needs to be taken to a national scale, as TFA has done. These well-qualified teachers deserve to receive the same respect and clout as TFA corps members. These are people who have made a commitment to the teaching profession and their own development as professionals; they should at least be regarded as highly as the "talented recent college graduates" that TFA recruits.

I'd also like to point out that I am a former TFA corps member myself (Los Angeles 1995). I am not wholly condemning TFA, just suggesting that we have additional resources we can draw on (certified teachers) to address inequity in our nation's schools.

Jennifer Pease

Corey Bunje Bower said...

I don't know if it would be totally useless for an already certified teacher to go through the TFA summer program, but it would certainly be insulting.

Equally insulting is the idea that only people from outside of teacher education problems can be extremely smart and devoted . . . I don't think anybody at TFA, etc. actually believes that but the lack of a similar program for certified teachers certainly implies it -- an excellent point that you made in your piece.