Good intentions don’t necessarily create good teachers


A recent story in the Star Tribune extolled the virtues of Teach For America, a program that takes high-achieving college graduates and puts them into classrooms as teachers.

The story led with Sarah Schultes, a newly minted college graduate who is teaching an eighth-grade science class at Anderson United Community School. She told the reporter her first day on the job “inspiring,” “scary,” “eye-opening,” “exciting” and “humbling” all at once.

These are common feelings for anyone after their first day of their first post-college job. Unfortunately, these feelings also show the inexperience and naiveté of a person who has not gone through the student teaching and classroom regimen required of all Minnesota college teaching graduates.

Schultes is one of 43 teachers in the Teach for America program debuting in Minnesota this year. The national program puts college graduates in schools with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students. It was founded 20 years ago and it has 7,300 teachers nationwide who commit to spending two years on the job.

This year 15 members are in the Minneapolis public schools, five in the Brooklyn Center schools and 23 in charter schools. The Teach for America members obtain their state teaching certification while teaching. They also go through a five-week course over the summer in Los Angeles. They are paid the same salary as beginning teachers in the districts – $27,000 in Minneapolis and $33,000 in Brooklyn Center.

Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers’ union, has questioned the program, saying that now isn’t the time to be putting lightly trained adults in front of students. But Teach for America leaders say the idealistic recruits work hard and are amenable to helping students overcome Minnesota’s deep achievement gap.

It is ridiculous to think that anyone with a five-week summer course and a license waiver from the government is ready to teach. Classes are now typically over 30 students per teacher and the education discrepancies – from the highest achievers to the nearly illiterate – are enough to stymie the most experienced teacher.

Teach for America has it half right. More enthusiastic, positive, intelligent adults are needed in schools. They need to help students overcome the academic hurdles to high school graduation. But to put untrained graduates barely four years older than their students in a class without proper training does a disservice to education in Minnesota.

Teach for America members should not have control of a class. They are not well-enough trained. They should serve as assistants to licensed, experienced teachers and help them give students the education they deserve and that we as Minnesotans demand.