Straight Out of College and Into the Classroom: How Inexperienced Teachers Are Affecting Education
Education reform is sweeping the nation and with it comes Teach For America and similar teaching corps and fellowships, such as Chicago Teaching Fellows, NYC Teaching Fellows, and Teach NOLA. The purpose of these programs is to train recent college graduates and other young professionals, after they go through a rigorous application process, to become classroom teachers.
Teach For America is an extremely controversial aspect of education reform. Those who advocate for it believe that it will be part of the long process that turns around the failed public education system. Enthusiasts believe that bringing in some fresh faces – teachers who are well trained, young, and enthusiastic – will turn the system around. However, there are critics of this idea too.
Teach For America’s original mission statement comes split in two parts:
Provide understaffed schools and districts with capable teachers to fill those positions.
Create a greater movement to impact education through awareness and advocacy.
While no one argues that this is a nice idea, many critics of Teach For America and similar fellowships question the motives behind such programs. As it turns out, Teach For America corps members are not only filling vacant teaching positions in high-need schools, but they are also replacing veteran teachers. Because corps members are government employees they are much cheaper for schools to hire, leaving many seasoned teachers who do not measure up to the standards set by high stakes testing without jobs.
However, some of the major issues with Teach For America come from not only sustaining but also contributing to a problem of veteran teachers losing their jobs. Corps members in these fellowships have an extremely high turnover rate. In fact, many of them, inadequately prepared for the stress of working in a high-need school, leave before their two-year contract is even complete. When Teach For America fellowship members vacate these positions, they are often refilled with others from the same program, thus creating a pipeline of different teachers who usually stick around for only two to three years.
If Teach For America is replacing veteran teachers with equally skilled new teachers, then this is not necessarily a problem, though it does contribute to a school culture where kids are less able to rely on their teachers to stick around.
Teach For America teachers are held accountable by their students’ performance on high-stakes tests and, like other teachers, are rewarded with monetary “incentives” that will, in theory, inspire them to work harder. The organization is partially founded on the idea that teachers’ unions are holding back education reform and, as such, Teach For America members are not allowed to unionize.