Diane\'s Blog

Eddie Lopez, Jr.

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

My name is Eduardo (Eddie) Lopez, Jr. and I just want to write to you for two reasons. Before I go into my reasons for emailing you, I want to tell you a little about me. I’m a second year teacher, currently in teaching in South Texas (where I’m originally from), but my first placement was with the School District of Philadelphia. By certification, I’m an English Language Arts and Reading teacher at the high school level, although I consider my title as simply “an educator of growing adults.” I was educated at Brown University and received my M.S.Ed at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (secondary teacher preparation program).

The first reason for this email is simple: I’m a fan of your shared blog with Deborah Meier Bridging Differences and I wanted to say thank you for your insight into the school issues I face everyday.

The second is not so simple. I was hoping you could do me the honor and respond to some questions I have about public education. It seems like each day I hear and read something negative in the world of public education. Sometimes it’s amazing news, but more often than not, it’s an attack on my chosen profession. For a new teacher, (I’m 24 by the way) it’s a tough pill to swallow when I see our political leaders indirectly (and sometimes directly) demonize teachers by supporting assessment programs like “value added assessments.” It’s disheartening to hear high power figures support programs like Teach For America and other programs like TFA, but claim that they want to “professionalize” the profession.

In the past and current district that I have worked in, there has been a lot of faculty members from the Teach for America organization. In both schools, the faculty was either really young (22-30 years old) or very seasoned (12+ years of teaching). Because of this, most of my teacher friends were TFA members. During our down time we would hang out and try not to talk about teaching (which never works!) and in these conversations, I heard many members talk about how they hated what they were doing, how they felt unprepared to do the job effectively, and most disheartening, how they couldn’t wait for the two year commitment to be up so they could go to (insert better job / city / graduate school here). It was awkward when they mentioned their post TFA plans. I felt like the idiot who never received the memo that encouraged young bright people to leave the teaching field after X amount of years. I was awkward because I knew I would spend the rest of my professional life as an educator. I felt like I was and am losing a battle for my identity as a teacher.

This is where you come into the picture. I’m curious to know what you think about the “professionalization” of becoming a teacher. Where did the chain break / record skip? Let’s face it: it’s easy to become a teacher (at least this is the method to become a teacher in Texas). Step 1: Graduate College. Step 2: Apply to an Alternative Certification Program (if you didn’t major in elementary or secondary education in college) – in which you pay thousands of dollars over the course of a year to be supervised by a veteran teacher (a few random times over the school year) and to attend various seminars on classroom management, etc. The teacher in training also receives a TEA identification number to registrar for the required exams needed for certification. Step 3: Pass the exam. If you didn’t pass the exam, you need to repeat Step 2 over again with a three year limit.

Why isn’t it mandatory for potential teachers to be top college graduates (step 1)? Why isn’t it mandatory for these top college graduates to be enrolled in a two year graduate program (one year dedicated to graduate level course work and the other year dedicated to a one year teaching internship) to enhance their understanding of the various factors that go into the everyday nature of educating a child (step 2)? Why don’t universities recommend the applicant for certification to the state department of education instead of paying ACP program to do so?(step 3). Then the applicant should take the certification exams, which should also be nationalized and more difficult (step 4). Finally, provide the first year teacher with effective leadership, development, and support for the next five years (step 5).

If this was the new way to become a public school teacher in the United States, do you think it would change the way people think about the route to become a teacher? If we had this selective, arduous, and national process to become a public school teacher, we wouldn’t have organizations like Teach For America (I’m assuming the top college graduates would not want to join the organization when they realize that the route to teaching is hard, time consuming, and hopefully longer than two years).

Perhaps my email just became a rant about TFA, but as a new teacher all I’m seeing is young people enter the profession via an organization designed to have them exit after two years. And yes, I know some stay on for many more years, but the intent is to fight the achievement gap by having its members take the two year experience and go into another field to promote the TFA mission. I just think there has to be a better answer to solve the achievement gap, because indirectly, they are harming the profession.

What do you think? Again, I know you are busy, but it would be an an honor to have a response.