Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Teach for America Q&A: certified in Physical Education

I've been using Google Analytics to analyze the traffic coming to the blog, and almost all of the search terms have to do with Teach for America. Also, since I am active in teacher groups on MySpace, I get more and more messages everyday from people asking for information about TFA to help them decide whether to apply or not. I wouldn't be living up to the mission of I Want to Teach Forever if I didn't share these discussions. This will be the first of many postings on this topic. Feel free to email in your own questions!
Q: hey! im will be graduating from [a university] in the fall with a masters degree in kinesiology and i am very interested in teach for america. i will be certified to teach physical education, grades k-12. do you have any info that may be helpful????
[an interested party]

A: Well, let's start at the beginning. Your advanced degree can be a benefit and drawback in TFA. Obviously your experience will help you in the classroom, and teaching at summer institute won't be as challenging as it would for someone who's never done anything like it before.

However, you may become frustrated when going through TFA's initial training process, because you were taught how to teach one way, and they will teach you their way, and the two methodologies might clash at times. Also, I can pretty much guarantee you that you won't be teaching physical education, because there is such a huge demand in the core areas (especially science, which is where you would likely end up). I've never heard of anyone being placed in a PE position--and in a middle or high school setting you would almost certainly have to teach a core subject as well as be a PE teacher [if that was indeed possible]. That last part is the reality of the teaching landscape right now, not a TFA thing. If you do join TFA, be prepared to teach something unrelated (or only [related] tangentially) to your degree.

Now that's out of the way: The application process starts with an online application. If you get through that, you are scheduled for an in person interview. I don't know how much this has changed in the past 4 years, but my experience involved going to Accenture's corporate offices in New York City and jumping through a series of hoops with a roomful of TFA hopefuls. We were given discussion topics, had private interviews with recruitment staff, and had to give a short sample lesson on more or less whatever we wanted. A few weeks later they tell you whether you have been accepted and tell you the region they will place you in if you accept. When you accept, they begin to send you materials to read to prepare you for that summer's training institute (which takes place in locations across the country).

Institute, in short, is a month of teaching summer school in one of TFA's regions while absorbing a multi-year teacher education program at the same time. It is an incredibly intense trial by fire that will make or break you. In your case, as I said before, your experience will be a great benefit, but there's no PE in summer school, and you could be teaching any subject and any grade level (which could be completely different than what you'll be teaching in the fall).

Your TFA regional staff sets up interviews and does numerous other things to get you a job ASAP after entering the program (probably even before Institute). They will be the ones setting up professional development and the rest of the support network throughout your 2 year commitment. At the end of each year, you receive an education award that can be used for paying off loans (or going to grad school, although I doubt you'll be doing that again!).

Besides this support, you are otherwise a full-time teacher employed by the school district just like everybody else at your school. TFA doesn't pay your salary.

Each region gives you help in where to look for housing and everything else you need when moving to a new area, but they don't do it for you. You'll probably make friends and decide on roommates with other corps members early on as well.
At this point I asked if [an interested party] had any more questions, since I could go on forever. I enjoy being able to share my experiences with people--I guess there is no off position on the teacher switch (thanks, Dave).

Let me put a disclaimer here for now and the future: I don't work for Teach for America. I don't plan on doing so. I have a very positive view of it and had a positive experience. The opinions expressed herein do not represent those of Teach for America, TFA-RGV, or anybody else. These are my experiences and my viewpoints, and YMMV.