Sarah Logan: An effective alternative teacher certification
A native West Virginian, I graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
After some soul-searching and long conversations with my mother, a teacher, I decided a career in teaching would be interesting and rewarding.
My research led me to Teach for America. My heart leapt at the idea of moving to an “exotic” place, earning my teaching certification, and serving underprivileged children in areas where teachers were scarce.
Acceptance into Teach for America is highly competitive, but I began the intense application process.
Imagine my pride when I was accepted into the final round of lengthy interviews. During discussions with the other applicants, I realized very few planned to make a career of teaching; most wanted to teach for a couple of years and go on to graduate school with something to “look nice” on their resume.
The interview questions seemed more focused on how I would deal with difficult circumstances and prejudice than on curriculum and teaching strategies.
I started realizing that sometimes TFA teachers were not very respected by their colleagues. I recalled that my college advisor had a negative attitude about the program because he claimed the group was only interested in their image and recruiting Ivy League students.
After months of waiting, I was accepted into the program. Initially, I was offered a choice of subject and location. I received neither request but was offered a position in inner-city Philadelphia teaching mathematics in a special education classroom.
Over a few months, I was expected to study for and pass the Mathematics Praxis exam, complete the five-week training, and move to Philadelphia. I decided this limited preparation would not be enough to become a competent teacher, either in content knowledge or instructional strategies. I did not feel I would be able to serve the needs of those students, and my services certainly wouldn’t help a school that desperately needed effective, experienced teachers.
Instead, I moved to South Korea and taught English in a private school for a year. This was a difficult but rewarding experience that solidified my desire to become a teacher.
Afterward, I moved back to West Virginia and discovered the Transition to Teaching program.
Transition to Teaching requires applicants to initially secure a desired position, which I found in Mingo County. The program provided summer training, on-site mentoring, and other support while I took classes toward certification.
My first year was challenging, but I chose where I wanted to go and help was always available. My fiancé is also a Transition to Teaching participant, and as a fourth-year teacher in Mingo County, I plan to stay in this community.
Teacher shortage is a growing problem in West Virginia. In my experience, Transition to Teaching is more effective in attracting and retaining young teachers in West Virginia. Teach for America requires a two-year commitment, but after filling that commitment, many participants quit teaching.
Transition to Teaching requires a minimum three-year commitment in a county needing teachers. Because of the quality support and the choice involved, Transition to Teaching is more likely to keep teachers in the state.
Teach for America is a short-term solution to a long-term problem with little evidence of effectiveness.
West Virginia doesn’t need semi-qualified, drive-by teachers. We deserve highly trained educators who are integrated into our communities and dedicated to meeting the needs of our children.
Sarah Logan is an English teacher at Mingo Central High School.