Grad school criticizes volunteer program

The Graduate School of Educational and Human Development held a panel discussion Tuesday evening at the School Without Walls in an attempt to reassert itself against popular competitors like Teach for America.

A panel of GSEHD professors and administrators emphasized the value of the school’s traditionally structured education programs at the event, which was designed to “not only promote our graduate programs, but to combat the rampant promotion of Teach for America on GW’s campus,” said Sarah Lang, the school’s director of admissions and student services.

The representatives touted the value of their Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education program, and said Teach for America – which offers its recruits on-the-job training in disadvantaged school districts – cannot be an alternative to training America’s teachers in institutions of higher education.

“Teaching is a complex art,” said Karen Kortecamp, associate professor of secondary education. “It takes years to master.”

In an e-mail before the event, Lang said the event’s target audience was GW undergraduates, who have traditionally been one of the top feeders for the Teach for America program nationally.

“Not only has TFA turned into one of our biggest competitive threats on campus, but its message perpetuates the notion that teaching can be temporary and disposable in one’s life rather than a career choice garnering commitment and further education,” Lang said. “We want the GW undergraduate student body to have all the information and be able to distinguish between organizations offering alternative licenses, such as TFA, and accredited licensing and master’s programs, such as those offered through GSEHD.”

Kortecamp said that teachers are a vital part of American society, and must be taught the art of educating others in a learning environment like the GSEHD, rather than simply on the job.

“Teaching is the most important job in our society in my opinion,” Kortecamp said. “Why? Because education is often the difference between economic prosperity and poverty, between opportunity and misfortune.”

Travis Wright, assistant professor of educational research, agreed with that idea, and highlighted the importance of effective teacher training and the role of being a teacher.

“Teaching is its own career,” Wright said. “You get strategies, you learn how people learn. As a teacher, you have to be in touch with why you teach.”

Members of the audience – which included mostly GSEHD students and local D.C. educators – agreed that GSEHD and the experience of teaching was extremely rewarding.

Kelly Riling, a first-year teacher in the D.C. public school system, earned her master’s degree in elementary education from GSEHD in 2009.

“I feel so prepared coming in, I don’t even feel like a first-year teacher,” Riling said, referring to her education at GSEHD.

Tara Courchaine received her master’s in bilingual special education from GSEHD in 2002, and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree, which she said is required to become a professor. She said she took away valuable tools from her traditional education.

“Every child is different,” Courchaine said. “You have to understand the dynamics of what is going on to be successful.”

Kaitlin Gastrock, a spokeswoman for TFA, said there are many routes to take in order to become a successful educator.

“Students in Teach for America classrooms receive just as large gains, if not larger, than their traditional peers,” Gastrock said.

At the end of the event, Wright delivered a “call to action” for members of the discussion with teaching ambitions.

“For me, it is a social justice endeavor,” Wright said. “We live in a country with a widening income gap. Making sure that kids get the fairest possible start is the most important. I have never found another way to be in the world that is as satisfying as being a teacher.”

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