I thought one of the most appealing aspects of being placed to teach in Memphis was that there was no master’s degree requirement. In fact, there was no requirement at all outside of Teach For America professional development to take any coursework toward any kind of additional certification. I had to take a couple of Praxis exams during my two years, but that was all. I thought it was wonderful at the time: I don’t know how I would have been able to handle classes on top of teaching, and I appreciated not having to pay for an M.A.T. I didn’t want or need.
But now, half a semester into an M.S.Ed. I want but really don’t need, I realize that I could and would have been a better teacher had I been reading literature and discussing pedagogy and policy like I am now. The things I’m learning about assessment, and the best practices I’m learning from other countries… they would have helped me so much as a teacher, I think. Granted, Penn has a top graduate school of education, so it’s probably to be expected that the content is meaningful and useful. There’s no point in regretting that I didn’t pursue a master’s degree in Memphis, but I recognize the value now in taking education classes, from a great school, at least.
I do believe the ideal for American teachers is that every teacher has a degree in education (an advanced degree, even), has learned about pedagogy, has learned about child development, has mastery of a content area, has student teaching experience, has the commitment to make teaching a long-term career. I don’t think that any of those things necessarily makes someone a good teacher, but each sure increases the potential for someone to become one. Without a 4-year education degree, I got by. I survived the crash courses of institute, went to every mandatory professional development, aced some standardized tests – in subjects I had never actually studied – that said I was “qualified” to continue as a licensed teacher. And I didn’t suck. Would I want my brother to have had a teacher like I had been? Not if the aforementioned ideal had been available. But had my brother gone to the school where I taught, of the handful of math teachers I would have trusted him with, all but one would have been corps members. Still, setting a low standard for the people teaching our children is a disservice to the kids, the system, and the country. I think (I hope?) Teach For America understands this; I hope traditional schools of education and policymakers understand this too.
For all the academic discourse and research presented in my classes, though, there don’t seem to be many solutions presented…