Which Is Better?
Alternative or Traditional
A former Teach for America recruit who completed her training
in a university-based program compares the two approaches.
In spring 2009, I joined Teach for America’s early childhood edu- cation corps in Chicago, Illinois. After participating in the rigorous ummer institute, I worked in an
early childhood education center for
six weeks as an assistant teacher before
opting to resign from the corps and
enroll in a traditional teacher education
Two years later, I have my master’s
degree in teaching, a certificate in
elementary education, and a wonderful
job teaching 2nd grade in a Chicago
public school. Choosing to leave Teach
for America when I did was a decision I
made with much trepidation. Would I
be missing out on an opportunity to be
part of a larger movement for change?
Would I be able to find a job in such
a tight market without the assistance
of Teach for America’s placement
team? Would my teacher education
program be as rigorous as the summer
institute? And, perhaps most important,
as someone who hoped to stay in the
classroom as a career teacher, was I
making the better decision?
Alternative or Traditional?
Some time has passed since that crossroads, and I’ve been able to reflect on
the contributions that each preparation
experience made to the teacher I am
today. Was one program more valuable
than the other? Did one do a better job
preparing me to teach?
What I Learned in Teach for America
Teach for America, like many alternative
certification programs, offers a swift
and intensive path to the classroom.
During the five-week summer institute,
I learned how to design units with the
end in mind; align my learning activities and assessments to measureable,
student-centered learning goals; and
write a lesson plan that had checks for
understanding built in at every turn.
My fellow corps members and I
read Carol Ann Tomlinson, Anne
Cunningham, Grant Wiggins, and Jay
Mc Tighe; we were exposed to the heavy
hitters in education theory and asked
to put those theories into practice as
we planned our summer units and
lessons. It was, in no uncertain terms,
instructional planning boot camp, and I
couldn’t have wished for a better intro-
duction to the ins and outs of the first
domain of the Danielson framework for
teaching1—planning and preparation.