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Unprepared and knowing it

New York Teacher

Would you want a doctor who had completed one year of medical school instead of four? A lawyer who had finished only one semester of law school?

In other professions, we assume that practitioners will have proper training.

But for teachers, a dangerous sort of denial has taken hold about the preparation needed to be effective in a classroom.

It is as if our society had tacked up a sign: Teachers wanted. Little training required. The less experience, the better.

Two programs that may promote the belief that teachers require minimal preparation are Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows.

The UFT counts among its ranks thousands of Teaching Fellows and a handful of Teach for America teachers. The union proudly represents them and honors their good work. But many of them have a hard time in their first few years given the gaps in their training.

The Teaching Fellows program was founded in 2000 when the city faced a shortage of certified teachers. Its participants receive a crash course of six weeks of training before they are placed in high-need schools while continuing their graduate work after school and on weekends.

Reports over the years have documented that a significant number felt unprepared for the classroom. This concern has surfaced again in a new UFT survey of teachers. Among respondents, Teaching Fellows were more than twice as likely to rank their training as poor or fair as teachers certified through traditional college programs.

Since 2005, the city has had contracts totaling nearly $50 million with The New Teacher Project, which runs the Teaching Fellows program. We urge Chancellor Fariña to evaluate that contract closely to determine if it serves the city’s needs.

Also under the spotlight recently is Teach for America, which requires only a two-year teaching commitment from its participants and gives them just five weeks’ training before placing them in high-need schools. The organization Students United for Public Education has a new Twitter campaign, #ResistTFA, that has generated a hugely popular twitter chat about the controversial program.

The chat may be the start of an important debate.

Teaching is both one of the most rewarding and the most challenging jobs. To do it well, teachers need and deserve excellent preparation. And children need and deserve well-trained teachers.