John Merrow wrote a recent column on his advice to college grads thinking about joining Teach For Awhile. His advice isn’t bad, but here is what I wrote:
My advice is DON’T!
Don’t do TFA if you want to help kids and teach them information and skills that they need.
Only join TFA if you cynically want to pad your resume.
(The 5-week indoctrination with about 1 hour a day of practice tutoring that you are given in TFA is essentially worthless in terms of actually teaching. My young cousin, who did TFA for a year before giving up, said that beginning school after that ‘training’ was like being ‘a lamb thrown to the wolves’.)
The last thing underprivileged kids need is somebody who doesn’t know jack about teaching to come in, fail, and leave in a year or two. They need somebody who’s actually studied pedagogy and theories of education and has at least six months of practice teaching under a good, veteran teacher — and who plans to stick around in the profession for a long time.
Just as you wouldn’t want a nurse, physician, therapist, attorney, or architect who had only had five weeks of training, you wouldn’t want a teacher who had only trained for a little over a month. Not for yourself, not for your kids. It’s not fair to inflict that on poor, black, or brown kids.
Instead, make a long-term commitment: take some education courses towards a master’s in education in a subject that you love, and make sure you get good practice-teaching for at least a semester.
And when you are hired, make sure you follow John Merrow’s suggestion: ask around and find out who’s a really good teacher, and ask to sit in the back and watch. You will learn a lot.
If you are interested in teaching math and have a good background with math or math-related courses such as economics or physics, then there is an organization that does all this. It’s called Math for America, and there are branches in several cities. They pay for a full year of practical and theoretical training before you apply to work, as well as a living stipend. They also expect a five- or six-year commitment to teach in the city after your first year.