Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Teach for America Q&A: already licenced teachers

This is another email I received on MySpace that addresses the issues of already licensed and/or experienced teachers thinking about applying to TFA. I've never really heard the full story of one of the many people who follow this route into TFA, but I've heard and seen enough to offer this opinion:
Q: I read part of your blog. I thought the fantasy football theory was creative and hilarious. I am really writing to you to ask you if you were a teacher before you did Teach for America. I am currently a [fully] licensed teacher for elementary level and I am also finishing my year teaching abroad in Costa Rica with World Teach. I am doing and specialized volunteer bilingual program. Long and short of it, is that I have my license and a whole lot of experience and i am not quite sure about grad school yet, so what do you think the benefits of doing Teach for America would be for a already made teacher.

Thank you for your time,
[licensed teacher]

A: I wasn't a teacher before TFA--I was accepted into the program in my senior year of college. I had a degree in History, and I did a summer teaching program and other little education-related things here and there, but had no licenses or certifications to speak of. Teach for America will place you somewhere that needs quality teachers. I've continued teaching in my original region, the Rio Grande Valley (south Texas) and it has been a wonderful experience. Since you are considering grad school, that is also a reason to consider it since you will get an education award (roughly $8000 for me, probably more today) that you can put towards grad school (or loans if need be). I can't say enough about how much this program changed my life.

That being said, you have enough experience to get a job teaching anywhere without TFA's help. There are many great schools in the same areas TFA is serving (and many more they haven't reached yet) that will help the same kids. Charters are a great way to find a good school full of dedicated teachers, administrators staff and parents in areas where too many schools are failing the kids. KIPP Schools (Knowledge is Power Program) was started by TFA alumni and runs high performing charters all over the country, and depending on where you want to go there are many others like it. I'm not trying to advocate for charter schools. My point is that you have many more options to make the kind of impact you have been making in Costa Rica than even TFA can provide.

I think TFA may be frustrating for you because they'll be treating you as a brand new teacher, and they like to train you in their own way (which may run counter to your experience). What they will offer is ongoing support and professional development throughout your 2 year commitment and beyond, an education award that will help you with grad school, and placement in an area where you are most needed.

I almost forgot one more huge benefit that may be the thing that gets you to sign up--having TFA on your resume along with the other experience you have will help you get in to pretty much any grad school you want. TFA is a very selective, elite program, and grad schools just love that sort of thing. TFA has partnerships with many schools so you can apply now and defer until your commitment ends or, alternately you will have application fees waived or alumni-only scholarships available from different institutions.

If grad school is your goal, TFA has many advantages, but I would guess from your email that is just an added bonus and not the only impetus behind going for it.

FOLLOW-UP: Thank You sooooo much for taking the time out to respond to my email and so promptly. I will take the information you have shared with me when making my decision whether or not to apply to TFA.

May you have laughter in your life and love in your heart, especially for the little ones.

[licensed teacher]
Thanks to the [licensed teacher] for the inspiration for this post. Feel free to ask questions via comments or email.