By Victor Skinner
CHARLESTON, W. Va. – West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is promoting legislation that would give Teach for America recruits a path to the classroom on a temporary basis, and a way to earn a permanent teaching certificate in the state.
Under current West Virginia law, they are not allowed to work in the state, despite their success in many other states.
“We’ve got a good number of people who are West Virginia natives and are interested in teaching in West Virginia,” Will Nash, executive director for TFA’s Appalachian region, told the Associated Press. “The interesting thing is they have to leave the state.”
Tomblin’s legislation would provide TFA teachers the temporary certificate they need to meet their traditional two-year commitments in West Virginia. It would also make it more possible for them to stay longer.
Would-be teachers would still need a bachelor’s degree under Tomblin’s proposal, but the degree would no longer have to be in a subject offered in public schools. That change would make TFA educators qualified for a permanent state teaching certificate, the AP reports.
The West Virginia Education Association hates the governor’s legislation because it would force traditional union teachers to compete with young and bright college recruits for jobs.
TFA teachers are also less focused on union political activities and more focused on the academic performance of their students. The unions don’t appreciate that, either.
“Someone without a degree in education can take five weeks’ training and teach,” WVEA President Dale Lee told the AP. “Tell me how that makes sense. It just lowers the standards of the profession.”
The sad part is that traditional unionized teachers go through at least four years of college in education-specific programs, yet students across the nation continue to fall farther behind their peers in other developed nations. And academic performance in West Virginia typically lags behind the rest of the nation.
The union contention that TFA teachers “without a degree in education” would “lower the standards of the profession” is misleading and disingenuous.
TFA recruits are typically some of the brightest students in their chosen undergraduate programs. TFA officials only accept about 12 percent of the 60,000 who apply for the teaching program every year.
Once they emerge from their training, TFA teachers are widely recognized as highly motivated educators with a passion for their students and subjects. They’re eager to share their knowledge in school districts with some of the most underserved students. They typically commit to at least two years of teaching, and many make considerable progress during that time.
TFA teachers have been praised for their work in Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, prompting several governors like Tomblin to look for ways to bring them into their states.
TFA has about 10,000 teachers making an impact on students’ lives in 36 states, the AP reports.
The opposition to TFA in West Virginia, from the WVEA as well as the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, isn’t about students or any commitment to quality education.
It’s about union self-interest, specifically when it comes to reserving teaching jobs for dues-paying, long term union teachers, whether they are more qualified than TFA instructors or not.