When Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, I was living in Chicago and working as a computer security engineer. After hearing Obama’s passionate call to service from Grant Park that night, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher. I applied and was accepted to the Chicago Teaching Fellows (CTF) teacher preparation program.
CTF followed a teacher preparation model that was very similar to Teach For America. Our program consisted of teaching summer school during the day and attending condensed, fast-tracked graduate courses for two to three weeks. At the same time, we canvassed the city for any available teaching jobs.
My student-teaching experience consisted of teaching summer school for students with special needs in the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago.
My mentor teacher really had no plans but to babysit the children. He would read the newspaper most of the day and scream at the kids when they misbehaved. One of the fellows in the room ended up quitting halfway through the program.
In the fall of 2009, I started my first teaching gig as a sixth and seventh grade science teacher at Lewis Elementary School on Chicago’s West Side. I soon realized that I was woefully unprepared to be a classroom teacher. My first day on the job was the first time I had ever been in front of an entire class of 11- and 12-year-olds.
We Aren’t Preparing Enough Teachers
We need to rethink how we are bringing new people into the profession. Teaching can be extremely rewarding, but the PR and optics of the profession are terrible.
The general public’s view of teaching often only focuses on the negative parts of the job. Throw in the low pay and the heavy workload, and no wonder 49 percent of teachers leave the profession because of dissatisfaction. The unfortunate truth is within five years on the job, almost a third of teachers will have chosen other work.
We aren’t preparing teachers for real-life classroom experiences. The first year of teaching is notoriously difficult. Educators always look back at their first year as the worst in their career.
By accepting that the first year is just going to be difficult, we are creating a barrier to entry for prospective educators. We need to fundamentally change the way we are recruiting, training, mentoring and retaining teachers.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) report, Building a High Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from Around the World, Australia has a four-tiered career pathway that includes: graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teacher. We have done a lot of work recently defining the aspects of great teaching for evaluation purposes. There should be a system to reward quality educators throughout their careers and heighten their job status.
To help train prospective educators, we could make it mandatory for veteran educators to serve as mentors in order to continue moving upward in the teacher career pathway. Presently, the connection process between inexperienced educators and mentor teachers is usually informal or dependent on the school or district in which you are employed.
By defining the different phases of the teaching career, we can then create systems of support for new teachers during the early stages in the classroom.