I’ve made no secret in this blog that I entered teaching through an alternative certification program (Utah’s), and that for the most part the education courses I took for this certification did not really help my performance in the classroom. But that’s not to say that teachers don’t need – that I didn’t need – training in the profession. My own inclination is to favor post-graduate training programs that admit candidates with strong undergraduate degrees and educational credentials, and then focus heavily on clinical, or experience-based, training.
So I was sad to read an article entitled “Steel City Blues,” about the demise of what sounds like a model teacher residency program in Pittsburgh.
Raksha Kumar had rented an apartment. She had signed a lease and moved in her furniture. She had turned down several job offers from well-established programs to take a chance on an offer that, when it came right down to it, did not seem so much like a gamble at all. It was a position in her hometown of Pittsburgh, and it represented an extraordinary chance to fulfill both a personal dream and a crushing public need.
Pittsburgh Public Schools had selected Kumar and 37 other recruits last spring from among nearly 1,000 applicants to join an innovative teacher residency program that combined a master’s level education with hands-on classroom training. The competition for the program had been particularly tough. Applicants had to sit through several interviews, show their stuff in panel discussions, write a long essay, and conduct model lessons. But it was worth it, Kumar said. Instead of sitting in a graduate school classroom getting lessons on pedagogical theory, they were going to put theory into practice in real classrooms while being guided by seasoned educators. For the privilege of learning by doing, they would receive a salary of $39,000 a year. In exchange, providing they proved competent, they had to promise to work for the Pittsburgh school system for five years.
The city killed the program. As the same article goes on to report,
The state of Pennsylvania was projecting a budget shortfall of some $4 billion, which was sure to cause painful cutbacks in education throughout the state, including layoffs in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), which had originally endorsed the residency, was now saying that it could not support new recruits if existing teachers were going to be let go. District officials felt they had no choice but to agree. So on June 18, they announced that they were cancelling the program.
Before I field accusations that I’m union-bashing, let me just say that I sympathize entirely with the PFT. To take any other position would be to fail the organization’s primary responsibility, which is to stand up for its members. What this story demonstrates to me is how hard it will be to pursue this kind of promising experiment in our difficult budget environment. (Note that the union initially supported the program.)
So let’s get beyond the teacher union issue, please, and talk about whether this might be a promising approach for teacher training in the future.