Teacher prep program is off the beaten path

Unlike most of her classmates at Yale, Ariela Rothstein ’10 is already working at her dream job.

A political science major who wants to become a social studies teacher, Rothstein teaches civics and world history classes to high school students at the Sound School on South Water Street from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Monday through Friday as part of her training in Yale’s Teacher Preparation Program.

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“It’s a long day. I’m usually out of the door by 7:05,” she said, looking exhausted but still professional in her tweed suit.

Nearly one in five Yale students goes into a career in education upon graduating, according to a study of 2008 Yale graduates by the Office of Institutional Research. This figure rose from 13 percent for the class of 2004.

And yet Rothstein is in a minority on campus — she is one of only 29 juniors and seniors currently in the Teacher Preparation Program, which currently allows students to become certified in early childhood or secondary education in accordance with Connecticut state requirements.

Instead of undertaking the Teacher Preparation Program, many Yale students interested in becoming teachers choose educational programs like Teach for America, which sends recent graduates directly into the nation’s classrooms. In fact, Teach for America was the most popular employer for Yale graduates in the class of 2009.

By contrast, the Teacher Preparation Program has seen a relatively flat enrollment in the past three years, Program Director Jack Gillette GRD ’85 said. The number of students certified by the program is soon likely to shrink, too, as students in the early childhood education program will no longer be able to get certification in 2013 because of a new state regulation that would require additional studies. In addition, only 22 of the current students in Yale’s program are on track to become certified teachers; seven students in the elementary education track of the program cannot meet state requirements, which were also changed to require coursework beyond Yale.

Certification concerns aside, the majority of students in the program are focused on educational policy and not the actual profession of teaching, Gillette said. It is a mindset reinforced by a society that questions why an Ivy League student would deign to become a teacher, Gillette said.

“[The question is,] ‘What’s a really bright person doing becoming a teacher? Isn’t that a waste? Shouldn’t you be a policy-maker, go to Washington and have an influence?’ ” Gillette said. “But once you step into a classroom, it’s reframed for you quite a bit.”

LOSING OUT TO TFA?

Once a week, Cassandra Trujillo ’11 treks to James Hillhouse High School on the Sherman Parkway to teach or observe a 10th grade English class as part of her Teacher Preparation training. Trujillo said that while her teaching is good hands-on experience, she is still deciding about whether to pursue a job in the classroom. Regardless, Trujillo wants to be involved in reforming education policy.

“I think there is only so much you can do from within an individual classroom,” she said.

Brimming with ideas about how to improve public education, such as tailoring school curriculum to better meet student needs, Trujillo said she wants to take education policy classes next semester.

Though Trujillo’s ideas may reflect a growing interest in education policy among Yale undergraduates and the nation as a whole, this interest has not necessarily been a boon for Yale’s Teacher Preparation program.

Scores of Yalies flock to programs like Teach for America each year to help inject new life into struggling public schools, and even more pursue education reform as policy-makers, Gillette said. Judging by sheer numbers, Yalies interested in teaching and education tend to pursue Teach for America instead of the Teacher Preparation Program.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the Teacher Preparation Program and TFA both prepare students for post-college careers in education, if not teaching itself.

“The Teacher Preparation Program can help provide key, fundamental classes, experiences and preparation for a successful experience in Teach for America,” she added.

Carla Horwitz, who has directed Yale’s early childhood education program since 1999, said she thinks Teach for America is unfair to both its public school students and its aspiring educators. Teach for America, which sends talented college graduates interested in education into the classroom after eight weeks of training, runs completely counter to the Teacher Preparation Program and its philosophy of teaching as “a thing to learn and a theory to practice,” Horwitz said.

“It seriously shortchanges the kids who need an expert at how to help poor, underserved kids, and it does a tremendous disservice to the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, well-meaning, highly-motivated teachers,” Horwitz said. “You go in with no skill, and you’re going to get chewed up and spit out.”

‘OTHER PRIORITIES’

The Teacher Preparation Program operates out of a brightly colored second-floor office at 35 Broadway, sandwiched between Toad’s Place and the Off Broadway Theater. The office — filled with countless volumes on teaching methodology and documentation of the program’s progress and goals from a recent evaluation by the state’s department of education — is a relatively recent addition to the program.

In the last 10 years, Horwitz and Gillette said, Yale College slightly increased its financial support for the program, a move that allowed the Teacher Preparation to move into its new office and add more support staff. But the program has had to make cutbacks like every other Yale department since the recession began.

From the new office, Gillette administers the program and serves as one of its only two dedicated faculty. Because the six adjunct faculty teaching in the program agree to work in the program for only a certain period of time, Gillette said, the program loses one to two professors every few years and must replace them. In the budget crisis, he added, some positions have had to be scaled back to part-time positions.

Robert Wyman, the chair of the standing committee in the Yale College Dean’s Office that oversees the Teacher Preparation Program, said the largest influx of money to the program in recent years has been to the program’s new master’s program in urban education studies, first offered in 2006. Like the undergraduate component of the program will now be forced to do, the master’s program only offers certification in secondary education.

But for the most part, the two programs share faculty. It can be difficult to find professors to teach in the program if Yale’s regular academic departments are unwilling to make hires specifically catering to the Teacher Preparation Program — which they often are, Wyman said.

“If the Psychology Department has other priorities than getting an educational psychology person, then that’s not going to happen,” Wyman said. “That has been a continuing problem.”

Pedagogy is not always well-respected in academic circles, he added. While some pedagogical research is impressive, other work is “terrible,” he said.

“This is why departments don’t want to hire anyone in this field,” he said. “It is an issue of the field bootstrapping itself.”

But recruitment obstacles aside, faculty at Yale are right to share their expertise with students interested in policy above practice, said former program member Han-Ya Annie Hsu ’04.

While she said she thought most of her classmates in the program chose to become teachers after graduation, she decided to get a masters in human development and psychology from Harvard. Hsu said she never taught again after interning at Hill Regional Career High School while in the Teacher Preparation Program, but she said the program has ignited her passion for improving education.

“I do think the whole liberal arts idea is to expose students to different fields,” she said. “It’s important to consider students who are interested in education but not exclusively in teaching.”

Correction: March 30, 2010

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the length of Teach For America training. It lasts five weeks, not eight.

Comments

  • ’10

    Honestly, Yale needs more people like this–people who care more about helping people than they care about maybe perhaps having their face on a $20 one day.

  • @’10

    Disagree.

  • ’10

    @’10 must be an EPE major.

  • tsk…Greedy future bankers

    No, “@’10” must be one of those Economics majors that is obsessed with the names Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, or whatever. From my experience, its the banker kids who focus almost exclusively on grades without spending any valuable time for community service and whatnot. I don’t blame them, grades are infinitely more important to these big name jobs. But then again, we’re training people to care exclusively about themselves, breeding greed….screw service to others?

    Another financial crisis looms.

  • Yale 08

    Yale doesn’t know how to train students for service. There is little philosophical difference between the investment banking crowds, the pre-med kids, the political activists and the humanities fan-boys.

    Buckley nailed in half a century ago- Yale is hard coded with cultural and moral relativism.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    ’10 must have never had to pay the bills in his life.

  • Teacher Prep ’11

    This article says SO little about the actual merits of the program.