We have a new principal who has charged members of their respective departments with interviewing and recommending potential hires this summer. I was privileged enough to be on that committee for a couple of different rounds of interviewing.
First, we had two vacancies left by teachers who took jobs at neighboring schools. We interviewed five candidates, all five of whom were certified and experienced teachers. We managed to get two of our top three choices. A couple of weeks later, another teacher left to pursue a teaching position elsewhere. To fill that spot, we recruited at the job fair where I interviewed three years prior.
Most TFA teachers don’t know this experience because their interviews are not truly competitive. The job fair/interview process for incoming corps members is done with the assumption that the schools will hire TFA teachers because their district is under contract to do so. With few exceptions, TFA teachers can rely on some measure of certainty that they will have a job. The rest of us just crossed our fingers and hoped and prayed that we didn’t say anything disqualifying and that we would get called back. Luckily, I got a call and was initially recommended for hire in a general ed math class. Later, they needed the resource math teacher position filled and I had special ed certification and training(1).
That year, our school experienced a lot of math department turnover with seven of our 11 math teachers gone(2). Our school hired eight new math teachers along with me in special ed. Of those eight, five were brand new to teaching. Of those five, four were alternatively certified. From the three experienced teachers, only one was traditionally certified.
My school and many of the ones that other TFA teachers serve have relied on a steady supply of “Highly Qualified”(3) candidates from alternate certification programs like for-profit vulture capitalists and Texas’ regional service centers. Low-income districts are more reliant on these programs since traditionally-certified teachers generally have a leg-up in getting more “desirable” positions in higher-income districts. Since TFA launched its San Antonio region in 2010, SAISD and a number of charter schools have hired over 300 teachers (not including the 2013 corps). When I worked for Texas Teachers, 2009 was the bumper crop for their candidates getting hired. They had several hundred hired in the San Antonio area in one year. When the recession affected school district budgets, there was a lot less hiring from all programs. This year, it appears that the market has budged and there is more movement.
Back to the job fair: the committee is me and two other math teachers. We were all hired the same summer three years ago. We were all alt-cert at one time or another. We interviewed three candidates. Only one was certified and/or experienced. The other two went through the for-profit programs that we went through. When we discussed the candidates and we saw what programs they were coming from, we all said similar things: “There’s no way they know what they’re doing. They got basically no preparation.” We recalled the degree to which we struggled in our first year especially from having no real classroom training. The certified, experienced candidate knew what she was talking about in her interview. It should be obvious by now whom we recommended.
It’s anecdata, I realize. But given that our department –in a not-desirable school or district for many teachers — has not had to hire an alternatively certified candidate with no experience since 2010, maybe the market is changing. It was accepted as gospel that high-need areas like high school math and science, bilingual elementary, and special education would have more vacancies than traditionally-certified applicants. But after years of stagnant labor movement, is there a glut of certified and experienced teachers? If not a glut, is there no longer such a need for “Highly Qualified” teachers to necessitate Texas’ extremely lax requirements for getting alternatively certified(4)?
(1) I’ll say this about my crummy alt-cert pre-service training: at least it was all about special ed. I can’t say the same for Institute.
(2) In retrospect, shouldn’t this have been a red flag? Yikes.
(3) This is, of course, another classic example of NCLB’s Bush-era Orwellian double-speak. All “Highly Qualified” means in practice is that you have a bachelor’s degree and you’ve passed a content exam or that you have 24 college hours in the discipline you are teaching for secondary. This says absolutely nothing about a candidate’s pedagogical training and experience.
(4) Requirements: bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution; completion of 80 hours of pre-service training which can be done online; completion of 30 hours of pre-service observations, half of which can be done online; “Highly Qualified” as defined by NCLB (see note #3). That’s it. Finish a degree in anything, pass a content exam, breeze through some online PowerPoint slides, and sit in any classroom for a couple of days, and you’re ready to teach. Makes TFA look like Columbia’s Teachers College.