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A Better Option Than TFA

As promised, here is the follow-up post from Derrick and Megan about the alternative to TFA that they chose. Their MAT program certainly has areas that could be improved, but this is the value they see in this type of preparation. If you have not read their initial post or the comments, it will provide additional context. One thing I love about great educators is that they are focused on solutions, so Megan and Derrick certainly could not stop with only reasons why they did NOT do something ...

5 Reasons We Chose a Master of Arts in Teaching

1. We value years of preparation.

We are studying theories of neurological and psychological development, learning differences, differentiation, and classroom management. Our years of preparation have offered us the opportunity to reflect on what techniques will best suit our own teaching styles. We need time to become reflective practitioners who think through why we use particular strategies. For example, an understanding of the various functions of the brain allows us to tailor educational experiences to best promote transfer of knowledge and skills for our students. The years of preparation also offer us the chance to learn from our peers.

2. We’re committed, long-term.

Our passions for teaching, learning, and students will be the fuel for our careers as educators. Teaching should not be a cool, two-year Peace Corps-like experience (Great Britain's TFA, Teach First, sells itself as just that - a two year experiment before you do what you really want.); we want to make a long-term impact on our school and community.

3. Variety is the spice of life.

Not every class will be the same as we go through our careers, so graduating with as many varied experiences as possible will build experiences to reflect on in the future. Not only does this chance to learn from our peers help, but we also work in multiple grade levels, subject matters, and with students from a variety of backgrounds. This helps us to know students as individuals, not ID numbers. When a student comes through our doors, we will have an appreciation for where they came from and where they’re headed.

4. Education professors help us grow.

By choosing a small, liberal arts institution for our higher education, we have had regular opportunities for one-on-one and small-group discussion. While TFA does not exclude any of its corps members from those opportunities during their undergraduate years, we were able to use these professors as resources throughout our clinical experiences. Teacher preparation is vital to our careers, so it only makes sense that we’d use education professors as resources to help us be as prepared as possible.

5. Each course we take, education or otherwise, is part of a broad, interconnected scaffold.

When we can take chemistry, computer science, physics, and cognitive science and integrate that with education courses and other disciplines in the liberal arts, we develop as thinkers and problem-solvers. Experiencing content from multiple angles helps to promote transfer, which allows us to internalize and use new knowledge and skills. We hope to develop those same skills in our students.

While corps members may have had liberal arts educations, we benefit from having education courses simultaneously. Connecting content knowledge to pedagogy in math, biology, and history courses allows us to learn beyond just the content of our courses. Without education courses being taken alongside these others, we may not find them as meaningful.

Will we grow a great deal as first-year teachers? Will we spend a significant amount of time preparing for eventual entry into our own classrooms?

Sure, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

2 Comments

T.T. commented on March 6, 2014 at 6:54pm:

Great rational. I totally

Great rational. I totally agree! It is a complicated, never-ending journey to become a master teacher. After earning a degree in elementary education, I spent three years as an assistant to three different master teachers. I had originally hoped to have my own classroom right away, but I wouldn't trade those three years for anything. I learned more, and more quickly, than I would have on my own. I also pursued an M.Ed. and would not trade that experience for anything. My 29 year learning journey continues....

Justin Minkel commented on March 12, 2014 at 1:30pm:

Me too, but.... (I did both.)

I, too, sought out a two-year Masters (Developmental Teacher Education at UC Berkeley), though in my case it followed two years in TFA. While I agree that this kind of program is valuable, I'd be cautious about confidence in its benefits until you've taught for a few years in a high-poverty school.

Two examples:

1. "For example, an understanding of the various functions of the brain allows us to tailor educational experiences to best promote transfer of knowledge and skills for our students."

I thought/hoped that would be true of the extensive coursework I took in child development. However, I found that much of that content (i.e. dozens of videos of kids doing Piaget's tasks) didn't have such a direct transfer to teaching. The basic premise was important--that young people's learning is qualitatively different from adults' learning, not just different in quantity. But not all of the theory selected in most schools of ed transfers immediately to practice.

2. "Teacher preparation is vital to our careers, so it only makes sense that we’d use education professors as resources to help us be as prepared as possible."

I know many truly remarkable education professors. That said, the majority of education professors have been out of the classroom for quite awhile; some have forgotten the realities, and others remember realities from times before huge shifts like NCLB and Common Core. In many regions, TFA corps members immediately begin a Masters program guided by both education professors and skilled veteran teachers.

I had the best of both worlds when it came to my Masters at UC Berkelely. I got a tremendous amount more out of the program because I could connect the coursework to my experiences teaching, and because I was suspicious of some of the program's dogma in the same way I had learned not to accept all TFA dogma. In general, the people in my program who had previously taught, two through TFA, others through other programs, felt that they got more out of the program because of having taught.

I applaud your decision to become teachers. The profession needs you. I also applaud those who choose to teach through TFA, though, and I would offer them the same caution if they wrote a blog about why TFA is a better path to the profession than a traditional two-year program.

(My conflicted take on TFA in my most recent blog post is linked here.)

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