What's the best way to prepare myself to teach?

Midway through my college career at Georgetown University, I decided I wanted to teach. Now I need to figure out the best way to prepare myself to do so.

Photo by Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones on Flickr.

As an entering freshman, I had no idea of the educational inequities just a few miles outside Georgetown's front gates. But my very first semester I joined an organization called DC Reads, which focuses on literacy work in elementary schools in Ward 7.

It didn't take long before I knew I wanted to work in education. After debating how I could best serve the students most affected by failing schools, I decided, like many of my peers, that first I needed to teach. A background in teaching seems essential to understanding the challenges of the classroom and to being an effective educational leader in the future.

By the time I made that decision I barely had enough time to declare my major, let alone think about transferring to a school where I could get an education degree. But I was aware that other options were available. My goal became to find a path that made sense for me personally but also fully prepared me for the challenges I would tackle as a teacher.

Teach for America?

One obvious and popular option is a program like Teach for America or DC Teaching Fellows. Participants attend a 6-week training institute over the summer and commit to teaching for two years in a particular school.

From a financial and personal standpoint, this route to teaching made sense. The summer training would cost a few thousand dollars, but in the fall corps members begin earning a full teaching salary. And the two-year commitment seemed reasonable for an uncertain 22-year-old like me.

It also seemed like I had a good chance of getting in. TFA is a highly competitive program, but other DC Reads alumni have found positions there at an impressive rate.

On the other hand, I wasn't sure I would I feel comfortable being completely in charge of 30-plus students after only 6 weeks of preparation. It's true that studies suggest TFA teachers and those in programs like DC Teaching Fellows perform at least as well as their traditional counterparts. But in a classroom just a few weeks ago I nearly dissolved a test into mass chaos when the lead teacher left me to proctor it for only 5 minutes.

More fundamentally, I am uncomfortable with the idea that a barely trained 22-year-old who may not be considering a career in education is a better option than a local veteran teacher who has been involved with the school culture for a long time. Though I believe that many alumni of fast-track programs do a good job, I don't think a revolving door of two-year teachers is the best thing for students. Even if I personally intend to stay longer, it is difficult for me to participate in a program when I don't fully believe in its culture.

Given those considerations, it might seem obvious that I should get a graduate degree in teaching. I would get two years of focused training, complete with a 6-week practicum and a full semester of student teaching experience, before being given my own classroom.

But graduate school is expensive and time-consuming. It's not necessarily worth the investment for someone who, like me, is planning to spend 10 years or less in the classroom. So I found myself asking what other options I had.

Residency programs

I knew that some lesser known training programs included the concept of residency: I would work under a host teacher in the classroom for a year before being given my own classroom. The summers before and after that year typically include one or two 6-week training modules that focus on preparing participants for situations they will face in the classroom.

Residency programs require a longer commitment than TFA-type programs, usually 3 or 4 years. But I'm planning to teach for more than two years anyway. And participants always end up with full state licensure or, in some cases, a full master's degree.

One drawback to a residency programs is the lack of full salary and benefits in the residency year. But it is important to me to receive the training I feel will best serve both me and my future students. So I'm focusing my hopes on 3 DC-area residency programs: KIPP's Capital Teaching Residency, Urban Teacher Center, and the Center for Inspired Teaching.

These programs are highly selective, and I'll need to choose from whichever ones accept me. I have tentatively accepted an offer from Urban Teacher Center in Baltimore or DC, and barring any great changes of heart will start there in 2014 or 2015.

But at the end of the day, the biggest questions for me are whether I want to be a teacher for the right reasons and whether I'm willing to do the hard work required to achieve the best outcomes for my students. Because I know the answers to these questions are "yes," I hope to be a successful teacher regardless of the program where I end up.

Allison Link is a senior at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She has spent the last three and a half years as a tutor for various elementary schools in DC Public Schools, as well as one summer as a Central Office Intern. She is excited for an upcoming role in making the future of DC education greater. 


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I'm a math teacher at a charter school in DC. We've had a number of UTC residents work with us here the past couple years, and I was the cooperating teacher for one. I highly recommend the program. I really wish I had started my own teaching career through UTC or a similar program. I think it's the best combination of support, training, gradual release of responsibility, and hands-on experience.


by Stu on Jan 6, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

I do not understand what this piece of externalized self-reflection is meant to achieve. While Ms. Link appears to have made her decision, inconsistencies in the tenses of her narrative leave the reader somewhat in doubt. Her essay seems intended to seek some manner of knowledgeable validation for her research and thought process, which I suspect the majority of readers are in no position to give.

by Craig on Jan 6, 2014 7:59 pm • linkreport

Well, I believe if prospective teachers, whether they go through the traditional education program or quicker versions, read this article they can get a better grip on what is right. Not what is right for them now, but if right for the children they are intending on helping in the future. As a current student in a 5-year Masters program in Education, I see how quicker programs such as TFA do not provide enough training and ultimately destroys the structure, bonds, and sense of relationships between teachers and the school community.

by Raphael B on Jan 7, 2014 7:50 am • linkreport

"A background in teaching seems essential to understanding the challenges of the classroom and to being an effective educational leader in the future."

Please go into teaching because you want to teach. Not because you want "a background in teaching." Or at least avoid saying things like that. It is kind of insulting to people doing this as a career to say you're just here for some "background."

Just some advice about how you should approach a new career...

by Just Saying on Jan 7, 2014 11:40 pm • linkreport


You list a few great programs available to aspiring teachers in Washington, D.C. I wanted to make you aware of another teacher certification program that is working to place dedicated and qualified teachers in the classroom called TEACH-NOW.

TEACH-NOW is online alternative teacher certification program, focusing on providing teachers the necessary strategies to become digital and technological leaders. In addition, it is a nine-month program, meaning you can start you teaching career by the end of the year!

I invite you to check it out (www.teach-now.com), and apply for the program. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and classes begin each month!

Good luck and welcome to the profession!

by Danielle on Jan 8, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

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