James: It’s not too late to save Teacher Prep

On Nov. 15, I received a very curt e-mail from professor Jack Gillette, the director of the Teacher Preparation program: “Yale undergraduate Teacher Preparation programs will be ending this June. A formal announcement from Yale should be out soon.” I couldn’t believe it — I had planned out my last three semesters at Yale around this program, and now the rug was abruptly being pulled out from under me. Conversations with my classmates revealed they were just as shocked.

My journey toward discovering I wanted to teach was by no means smooth. When I was younger and more presumptuous, I used to think, “Those who can’t do, teach,” and what I wanted to do was be a successful mathematician. Unfortunately, my particular version of the sophomore slump was a kick in the rear from two semesters of abstract algebra. I knew something had to change.

At last, after spending two semesters coaching MATHCOUNTS in New Haven middle schools, a summer working with gifted high school students at a program called Mathcamp and wrestling this fall with educational theory in my two Teacher Prep seminars, it has become clear to me that the actual teaching of mathematics is just as interesting to me as the material itself, and is more in line with my own skills and goals.

Yale’s Teacher Preparation and Education Studies Program has given me the opportunity to examine pedagogy critically, revealing a world of nuance and controversy of which I was previously unaware. After just one semester in the program, I already feel like my views on education have changed completely. Furthermore, I am now much more capable of explaining what I see going on in a classroom from both a practical and theoretical standpoint. The concepts and vocabulary students learn from the Teacher Prep program are integral to how we think about the pressing issue of education reform.

Unfortunately, Yale’s decision to terminate the program means I can no longer embark on the new course I was so excited to have finally charted. As a result, I will not graduate as a certified teacher, since Yale has removed the only possible path to do so. I’ve been observing students at a New Haven public high school as part of Professor Gillette’s “Schools, Communities and the Teacher” seminar, and I can tell you that these schools desperately need more and better teachers — exactly what Yale has been providing new Haven through our Urban Fellows graduate program and undergraduate certification.

Yale’s decision seems to embrace and affirm the philosophy that teaching does not require any kind of rigorous training. Rather than carefully preparing me for my profession of choice — as it does for my classmates who want to go into medicine, engineering or academia — my University is telling me and the other juniors enrolled in Teacher Prep that we had better figure it out on our own because it sure isn’t worth Yale’s time or money. Even students who want to enter schools through Teach for America or other alternative programs would greatly benefit from a class or two in the Teacher Prep department before graduation.

To rub salt in the wound, Yale is canceling the program just as the Class of 2012 is halfway through it. Last spring, I received a note on Yale letterhead claiming, “The entire staff of the Teacher Preparation and Education Studies Program is looking forward to working with you over the next few terms and hopes that you will find teaching as rewarding as we have.” Despite its promissory tone, the University has reneged on its end of the deal by terminating a program so many of us are enthusiastic about completing.

Not only is Yale failing to fulfill its obligation to students enrolled in the program, but it is also undermining the broader commitment to education it has tried to establish with initiatives like New Haven Promise. Through institutions like Dwight Hall, we are encouraged to give back in our city’s public schools, but Yale without the Teacher Prep program falls short of actually giving its students the means to contribute in a more significant way.

I will be proud to call myself an educator one day, whether or not my University supports me in this endeavor. However, it is disheartening to see the school I’m usually so glad to attend abandon me in the middle of my journey — it’s as if Yale believes I’m wasting my time trying to learn to be a better educator.

It’s not too late, Yale — please do the right thing and reinstate the Teacher Prep program. We should not be sitting on the sidelines in the fight to reform education in this country, and nothing will secure our place on the bench faster than pulling the plug on this department.

Tom James is a junior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • River Tam

    I don’t even particularly like the Teacher Prep program (although I have friends who’ve benefited enormously from it), but I think it’s terrible to discontinue the program without letting currently-enrolled students finish.

  • asdf1234

    it’s ironic that as we initiate New Haven Promise–presumably to help kids get better educations–we pull the rug out from under those who would seek to actually make the program work, by TEACHING. well said, mr. james. shame on yale for this.