One of the New Haven students I tutor tells me that her favorite teacher, hands down, is Leslie Blatteau ’97. When I ask why, she tells me that Blatteau — a Metropolitan Business Academy high school social studies teacher — makes material interesting and challenging, and “really listens” to her students.
Blatteau is a graduate of Yale’s Urban Education Studies graduate program, which, in exchange for an agreement to teach in New Haven for at least two years, allowed teachers to get a free master’s degree from Yale. Its companion program, Yale Teacher Preparation, allowed undergraduates to earn certification in either secondary or early childhood education alongside their major.
Yale cancelled both programs in 2010. Neither the program’s director, Jack Gillette GRD ’85, nor the faculty members on the program’s advisory board, nor the students enrolled in the program were consulted or notified prior to the program’s closing, according to the News. Seniors enrolled in the program could complete their certifications, but juniors who had already taken courses toward certification were flat out of luck.
Then-dean of Yale College Mary Miller’s justification for closing the program was essentially that Teach for America gave Yalies sufficient opportunities to teach after graduation. (I emailed Miller for this column; she didn’t respond.) Yale continued to offer courses in education theory, research and policy under the “Education Studies” banner, but purged the Blue Book of courses that taught Yalies how to teach.
Here’s a modest proposal: Bring them back.
Education Studies as it stands today is still an incredible program. I’m proud to be enrolled in it; my only gripe being that Yale won’t let me call it my second major even though I’ve accumulated 15 and a half credits. And though Teach for America is imperfect, many Yalies, including me, apply to it every year as a quick path to classroom teaching.
But TFA is not, as Yale administrators argued seven years ago, an acceptable substitute for the Teacher Preparation program.
First, TFA trains its new hires for only five weeks, on average, before putting them in front of a classroom. Friends of mine in the TFA corps are split on the efficacy of the “summer institute” — some find it adequate preparation, some don’t — but it is simply incomparable to two years of rigorous coursework, classroom observation and student teaching.
Second, Yale’s education programs were direct partners of New Haven Public Schools that strengthened and supported our local community. Student teachers spent countless hours assisting and co-teaching in classrooms; master’s candidates taught in the public schools for at least two years. Many, like Blatteau, stayed much longer. It was a partnership that strengthened the flow of committed, talented teachers into New Haven Public Schools, and I’ve heard local school administrators lament its loss years later.
This isn’t to say that Yale doesn’t support or collaborate with New Haven’s public schools. On the heels of canceling Teacher Preparation, Yale launched New Haven Promise, the Yale-funded initiative to cover tuition for every New Haven public school student with a 3.0 GPA. It’s indisputable that this is one of Yale’s many wonderful contributions to the city. But I agree with critics of the decision who said, in 2010, that while making college free for students with B averages is wonderful, it doesn’t do much to support the students who are struggling academically and might be in danger of not going to college at all — something well-trained teachers could directly address. I don’t think it’s radical to suggest that Yale could continue to fund Promise and a teacher certification program, too.
Some might argue that offering any preprofessional courses distracts from Yale’s liberal arts mission. I think it’s silly to argue that pedagogy isn’t a “real liberal art,” given that teaching requires a deep grasp of psychology, sociology, philosophy, cognitive science and knowledge from virtually all disciplines.
But even if it weren’t, undergraduates in Teacher Preparation completed the certification coursework in addition to their majors and distributional requirements, and the notion that the pristine condition of a liberal arts degree is sullied if it’s accompanied by a professional certification is elitist hogwash.
Besides, if the steady flow of Yale graduates to banks and Bain & Company is any indication, we offer a fine preprofessional education in finance and consulting. Why not teaching?
Hundreds of Yalies who are passionate about education work as New Haven Public Schools interns, tutor with Squash Haven or the Urban Improvement Corps, or spend their summers working for LEAP or teaching at Breakthrough. We should renew opportunities for them to earn their teaching certifications. Resurrecting the Teacher Preparation and Urban Education Studies programs would be great for Yalies and great for New Haven.
Fish Stark is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .