One of the worst sins of Teach for America is that it has convinced politicians and corporate leaders that teachers need little or no professional preparation. Unlike doctors, lawyers, social workers, architects, engineers, or any other profession, teachers are allegedly well prepared to teach simply by holding a college degree and getting five weeks of training. In any other profession, this would be considered absurd. But TFA has sold our elites on this devaluation of the profession.

This reader has another view of what is really needed:

Dear Diane,

I am currently retired after teaching in Glenview, Illinois for 34 years. In the early 90’s our district was invited to create a clinical model school by the Illinois Department of Education. The idea was to develop a more comprehensive and effective method for inducting students into the profession.

Candidates applying for the program needed to have a BA, with preferably several years of post graduate employment. The program was modeled on the medical profession’s training. First year interns were placed with master teachers in three different classrooms at three different levels. During this first year, they functioned much as a traditional student teacher under the direct supervision of their mentor teachers. University classes were taken at night and on weekends.

The second and third years these interns became residents and were assigned their own classrooms, but still connected to a mentor teacher at their same grade level. This mentor counseled them through their first opening of the school year, their ongoing planning, their first teacher conferences, report cards, and closing of the school year.

At the end of two years, they received their master’s degree in education and also had two years of teaching experience. I’m sure many would say that this is too time consuming and expensive a process, but until we decide that teaching is a serious profession that demands long-term commitment, we will not produce the skilled teachers that are needed to address the needs of our children.

We currently have a system that invites anyone with a college degree and a pulse to be a teacher. So how do we think that’s going? It invites exactly the kind of contempt that we are receiving at the hands of hedge fund managers and other “reformy” know-it-alls.

Full disclosure. The above clinical model school was finally phased out of the district when the administrators and teachers who were so invested in it retired, and as new school board members were elected. That’s the other major challenge. Even when an effective system is developed, it is terrifically difficult to replicate and to sustain because the societal commitment is not there.

Sorry to go on so long, but I thought you might be interested to know that such a program was actually up and running nearly twenty years ago.

Georgia Gebhardt
Wilmette, IL