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.
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.
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.