Teaching is hard; there’s a lot of red tape, oversight, bureaucracy and a general feeling of being underappreciated and underpaid. That’s only part of the reason many college students jump at the chance that Teach for America offers: an opportunity for a two-year commitment to teaching in a teacher-needy school. While they hope to be effective and influential for students, they know they can also avoid many of the institutional problems that public education faces. A new comprehensive study backs up that belief, showing that Teach for America recruits are more effective teaching math than educators who entered into the profession by more traditional means.
Does this mean that these Teach for America members, who have college degrees but aren’t required to have prior teaching experience, are simply better teachers than those who went to school specifically for teaching degrees? Not exactly. As Andrew Rotherham points out in his analysis at Eduwonk, “I think it’s their screening and selection process – and in particular the screens for non-reportable traits such as tenacity, sense of efficacy, and belief about children’s potential – that makes the difference.” What he means is that teacher prep programs throughout the nation don’t look for so-called “unmeasurable” characteristics in their pupils, only at those with the requisite grades.
All teachers know that you have to want to be in the classroom to be effective. Maybe more so than any other job, being encouraging, optimistic and persevering are essential qualities of any great educator. While the study results say that Teach for America can sometimes bring in more effective teachers, it does not pass any judgment on veteran educators; the results just point out that bringing in teachers with fresh legs can boost performance (in this case, math scores).*
For more analysis and insight, head over to The Atlantic’s article on the study. What are your feelings on Teach for America or similar teacher placement programs? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
*An earlier version of this post may have implied that we endorse the position in this study. After reading your comments we realize how the language could have been misconstrued. School Outfitters does not endorse Teach For America or the findings presented in the articles mentioned above. Since Teach for America has a presence in schools nationwide, we merely hoped to present this study for our readers’ consideration.