Teach For America is famous for many things these days, including its five-week summer training institute in which newly selected corps members are “prepared” to take over classrooms with high-needs students. Here is a perhaps surprising look at the five-week institute, how it has changed over the years and what that means to teacher training. It was written by Jack Schneider @Edu_Historian, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and the author of Excellence For All: How a New Breed of Reformers Is Transforming America’s Public Schools. This essay is adapted from his article “Rhetoric and Practice in Pre-Service Teacher Education: The Case of Teach For America” in the Journal of Education Policy.
By Jack Schneider
Education reformers love Teach For America. They love it for a number of a reasons, but perhaps chiefly because it seems to prove that traditional teacher training—frivolous and without content, in their eyes—is unnecessary. Seeing the organization as a radical alternative to college- and university-based programs, reformers frequently point to TFA as proof-of-concept that conventional teacher education is totally superfluous.
But here’s the dirty little secret those reformers either don’t know or don’t want to know: over the past 20 years, TFA has continued to place more and more emphasis on pre-service teacher training. And today, the organization’s training model looks quite a bit like that of the conventional programs that reformers so disdain.
That isn’t to say that TFA’s summer boot camp merely condenses what rigorous teacher education programs do. Even filling every moment of the day as they do, there simply isn’t enough time in five weeks to prepare novices for the classroom. And to make matters more complicated, TFA corps members are often placed in schools where they are least qualified to be.