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TFA - perhaps not so amazing

Posted By: Tom Fiala on January 3, 2011
While I do not at this point teach TFA students - I do teach MAT students. Aside from the fact that the TFA's are often consddiered academically gifted in some ways, their "teaching" needs, I would argue are basically the same. During the fall semester my institution has a graduate course that is really a social foundations course that is grounded in social justice ideals. We connect the course to the broad notion of professionalism. We also teach this course in spring and summer sessions, although MAT students overwhelmingly dominate the fall course because of program rotation issues. The course is also required in other graduate degree programs that relate to education. (For example, as a core course in reading, mid level, and early childhood ed.) Some of the MAT folks are teaching when taking the class while most of the" regular" teacher ed. folks are teaching when taking the class.

There are a number of things I have discovered, but I will only begin to discuss one aspect of what I have to deal with. The needs of the two different groups are, indeed, different. The MAT's (and I would argue the TFA's) need information that was already taught to our traditional teacher ed. folks in their undergaduate programs. A good example would be the ability to connect reading and literacy strategies that must be employed in a classroom in order to meet the needs of "high neeeds student populations."

When teaching my foundations grad class, many MAT students do find this class fascinating and helpful in developing a sense of professionalism. However, there are many times when I, and thankfully with the help of the traditional education majors, need to make the course information understandable and thus meaningful to the MAT's. Why? They do not know that much about the complex nature of education.

However, let me get to the point, since my comments are getting a bit long. I would argue that MAT's and TFA's need some very fundamental knowledge about teaching since they know very little about education. For example, they need basic education about teaching reading. (More specifically for example, how to use assessment to differentiate reading instruction, i. e. DIEBELS, DRA, and DSA) Our traditionally educated students/teachers who are teaching generally know this "stuff". MAT's and TFA's may NOT - and PROBABLY will not know this "stuff". The same could be said about basic social foundations of education issues that were first encountered in our undergrduate class.

In other words, these folks (TFA's and MAT's) do or may not know anything about teaching in that they did not get basic information tradtional education students received in heir undergraduate classes. That is why - I would argue - they (the TFA's and MAT's) want what they believe is the practical "stuff" in order to meet their immediate needs. (Thus the different course evaluations discussed in this article!) They are expected - in a sense - to swim the English channel - but they first need instruction in "how to swim" in a pool!

The needs of a MAT or TFA student versus a traditonal education student/teacher should be and proably are - quite different.

As an important aside, I find it telling in numerous ways, that the TFA's want a rather watered down graduate experience. In point of fact, this was what the research found.

It seems to me that the TFA's need some basic undergraduate knowledge in order to teach their classes more effectively. Perhaps the traditional edication students/teachers do not.

Maybe one needs to to have separate classess for these groups. However, one then can consider the difference between undergraduate and graduate classes, and whether or not the TFA's or MAT's actually need more basic undergraduate teacher education knowledge and resulting skills. MAT's and TFA's believe they are "graduate" level students; however, I would argue that they are, in fact and in many ways, NOT because they are embarking on a new area of study. Thus, they are, in many ways, lacking in a fundamental professional education knowledge base inventory.

It seems the TFA's need more course work that embeds methodologies within social constructs as they attempt to teach students in high needs communities. This requires foundational knowledge in the social, historial, economic, multicultural, and policy contexts in which public schools operate. All of this requires, I would argue, the need to first have basic knowledge that is in line with undegarduate teacher education.

It may be that the TFA's are lacking basic undergradute education skills. So it may be that these basic undergraduate skills have to be taught in a supposed graduate class.

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 TFA - perhaps not so amazing by Tom Fiala on January 3, 2011
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