The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Momentum Supplies… Check

While planning for our unit on momentum (hopefully starting Tuesday), it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t need to use YouTube videos… there’s a toy shop just down the street! Behold my first direct purchases for my classroom as an educator:

Marbles in three different masses and a Newton’s Cradle! Weeeeee for conservation laws. Playing >> Watching any day. Will post the lesson plan when I have something presentable…

Gary’s TFA – It May Already Be Out There

Gary Rubinstein has followed up his previous condemning critique of TFA with a plan for how he would fix it. He calls for greater rigor in new teacher preparation and an emphasis on long-term teaching.  Here is my response in the comment thread:

Thanks to your posts over the last few months, I have been also applying to alternatives to TFA, while continuing with the TFA application path as well.

I’ve found some incredible programs, many of which are doing what you think needs to be done, though on a smaller scale than TFA (and hence without the massive PR, so its harder to hear about them). But if you look, you will find…

Top of my list is the Boston Teacher Residency ( A one-year immersive masters in education program is followed by a three-year commitment to Boston Public Schools. The masters program includes four days a week of student teacher during the school year, and two summers on either end of full-time coursework at UMass. If I get accepted to this, I will definitely go over TFA.

There’s an alliance of such programs at I’ve found most of the others fall somewhere in between TFA and BTR on the preparatory rigor scale, but there are so many alternative options. If you are interested in TFA for the right reasons, as I think I am, then take a look at these other programs too… maybe TFA will be right for you, maybe not. But its not the only structured alternative cert pathway out there, especially for career-changing professionals. As these residency models gain more exposure, TFA will have competition for the national stage in education reform teaching entry programs, and that may be all that is required to prompt change.

on November 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I think Gary is right on to be concerned about these issues, and so should anyone not solely interested in short-term, band-aid solutions. The problem cannot be improved by throwing untrained idealists into classrooms who put in a couple of years to say they did their time in the trenches, and then wash their hands of it.

Why Not? Apply Anyway.

So… that’s basically what I’m thinking. Criticisms of TFA as an organization aside, from the research I’ve done, it does seem to be the most direct path from working professional to teaching in a high-need area. Going the “traditional” route means going back to school and doing a degree in education. And further, going the alternative route to certification by directly hiring on with a school district seems to be a non-starter… as cold as it sounds, it seems like programs with the political clout of TFA are the only way to get into districts that are laying off on the whole.

There are similar programs, such as Math for America or The New Teacher Project, but I’m not sure either of these is a better choice. For one thing, I would want to teach science, not math necessarily (and anyway my grades in pure math, while good, would probably not compete in a program focused exclusively on the subject).  MFA also requires at least a year of going back to school and a five-year commitment. TNTP appears to be the exact same organization as TFA, except with a different name and a focus on particular cities over a national program. (Probably not-so-incidentally, TNTP was founded by notable TFA alumna Michelle Rhee.)

Hey school districts: If you are so hurting for experienced STEM professionals to consider teaching as a career, but don’t like the incursion of external non-profits, then how about a nice “STEM PROFESSIONALS: CLICK HERE FOR OUR FAST-TRACK ENTRY PROGRAM!” button that would help this along?

So, I started a TFA application. I’m going for it. Haven’t decided yet if I truly want to do it, but there is no harm in going through the application process just to see what will happen. Initial online application due October 26th, several follow-up steps come after depending on how far you get, and I would know my admission status and where/what I would be teaching by January 17. I would then have until January 30 to decide whether or not to accept.

IF I accept, I see this going one of three ways:

  1. I love it. Well great, now I have a teaching credential and experience in the classroom, I could take my credential and go to another school or stay put and keep fighting the good fight where I end up. This would be the intended outcome of accepting: long-term teaching career.
  2. I hate it, or at least don’t love it, and want to return to engineering or a technical field. Well great, 2 years of teaching isn’t going to erase my Bachelors and Masters in Aerospace Engineering, 5-year research stint at a NASA center, and 8 publications.
  3. I hate it, or I at least don’t love it, and want to do something else entirely different. Well, the above technical qualifications, former civil service, leadership experience, teaching credential and experience. and a Masters in Education (possible in most TFA deployments)… sounds like I could go many places with that. Education policy? Research/science policy? Run for public office? Work for a think tank? Lead somewhere else in civic engagement?

I mean, why not, really? Life is short… I’ve got one shot to experience the world and make a lasting positive impact on it. Is spending the next 40 years in engineering the best use of what I have to give?