To the Editor:
Ben Eisen’s article on a pending lawsuit questioning the credentials of many teachers highlights an important issue in education today: the qualification of our teachers. No Child Left Behind says that you have to be “highly qualified” to teach in a classroom, a vague term to say the least. The present lawsuit claims that the common practice of alternative certification, where teachers work toward their education degrees while teaching in the classroom, does not yield “highly qualified” teachers. Although the suit does not in any way involve Teach For America, if successful it would surely challenge TFA’s ability to provide teachers to schools in need.
The lawsuit dangerously misconstrues the intent of the law by focusing on the amount of schooling teachers get instead of their effectiveness in the classroom. And in terms of effectiveness, TFA is clearly successful. A whopping 96 percent of principals who employ TFA corps members are satisfied with their performance. That statistic should matter a lot more than how many years a teacher has studied education.
Eisen’s article also hinted at a big misconception I’ve encountered about the training TFA provides. Although TFA teachers, do only have a five-week training period before beginning to teach, it’s not just sink-or-swim after that. Program Directors and corps members constantly support TFA teachers throughout the school year. As a former TFA corps member, I remember calling my P.D. during my first year at all hours of the day (and night!) to discuss whatever challenges I faced in the classroom. I would meet regularly with other corps members to share lesson plans and strategies.
Another first-year teacher at my school had completed her Masters in Education, but did not have this kind of support. Her year was consequently much more difficult. This is what it really means to have an alternative certification — even though TFA corps members may not go through the same process as traditional teachers, the training and support they receive enables them to become highly effective teachers — and that’s what matters most.
David Gartenberg, law