Both sides of the debate seem to wish for more highly qualified teachers to be placed in the most difficult teaching positions.
From my point of view, it seems that Ms. Agranat (and Diane Ravitch, whose work is cited multiple times in Ms. Agranat’s recent column) seek the same goal as Teach For America and its founder, Wendy Kopp: Education reform.
Both sides of the debate seem to wish for more highly qualified teachers to be placed in the most difficult teaching positions – Agranat wants incentives for master teachers to teach in high-needs areas and Teach For America wants to recruit the top graduates from the best colleges across the country to help fill positions in the lowest-performing schools.
I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. From my experience teaching in a rural school on the Navajo Nation for five years, I can clearly say that no one is lining up to fill open teaching positions. A recent effort, the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), has shown moderate success in attracting the most effective teachers to the most underperforming schools: Ultimately, 6 percent of teachers who were offered an extra $20,000 to teach for two years in a high-needs school decided to transfer positions.
Teach For America fills similar positions for much less than an extra $20,000 per person. And they provide unprecedented levels of support to their teachers while in the classroom, far beyond any district-run mentoring program that I’ve ever seen.
And, yes, some Teach For America teachers do leave after their two-year commitment. Traditionally trained teachers don’t have a much higher retention rate – NCTAF found that 46 percent of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Some leave the field entirely, and others continue to teach in another school or work in some other capacity in the field of education.
It doesn’t have to be either or
That said, Teach For America also helps many top college graduates, who would otherwise not have considered a career in teaching, to find careers in public education. I am an example, as are many of my friends. After teaching middle school science for two years on the Navajo Nation, I decided to stay at my placement school for another three years, and then to continue teaching in Albuquerque.
What other organizations or traditional education degree programs can say they are recruiting the most talented, perseverant and driven college graduates to decide against becoming doctors, lawyers or bankers in favor of teaching in low-performing schools?
Ms. Agranat – it doesn’t have to be either Teach For America or improve conditions in the lowest performing schools across the nation. In order for our lowest-performing students to get the education that they deserve, it’s going to take both Teach For America as well as better recruiting, incentives and mentoring for teachers overall.
Missy Wauneka is a 2005 Teach For America New Mexico alum who taught for five years at Thoreau Middle School on the Navajo Nation and currently teaches at the Native American Academy Charter School in Albuquerque. Due to a communication error, this article originally listed Tom Ponce as its author. Wauneka wrote this article with the help of Ponce, a traditionally trained and certified teacher who later joined Teach for America and has, for the past three years, been teaching near the Navajo Reservation.