We struggle in West Virginia to fill every school classroom with an educator certified in the discipline they are teaching.  According to the West Virginia Education Association, we currently have 316 teaching positions being filled by long-term substitutes.

A significant increase in starting teacher pay—it’s currently around $34,000—would help, but it’s always going to be hard to attract more qualified educators to some of the rural and poorer parts of the state.  Also, it’s going to be an ongoing challenge to find the money necessary to raise starting salaries to a level that will attract more talented young people into the profession.

That’s why West Virginia should take advantage of the Teach for America (TFA) program.

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits motivated and talented individuals to work in low-income schools for two years.  Some of the recruits have teaching experience, but most don’t. All are immersed in an intensive five-week training program before entering the classroom.

TFA has plenty of critics, including some alums of the program, who say dropping into a school for just two years can have a destabilizing impact on the community.  Opponents also say the trainees cannot master all the pedagogical skills of a teacher certified through traditional training and it’s insulting to the profession to suggest they can.

However, new research suggests TFA can effectively fill the void in high-poverty schools.

Mathematica Policy Research has just released a study examining the effectiveness of TFA elementary school teachers relative to other teachers in the same school.  The research shows that on average, TFA corp members “were as effective as other teachers in the same high-poverty elementary schools in teaching both reading and math.”

Mathematica reports its findings are consistent with earlier studies on the effectiveness of Teach for America educators.

The West Virginia Legislature is trying again this year to approve TFA here.  It’s included in HB 2005 which deals with methods of alternative certification for teachers.  The bill has passed the House and is on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee this morning.

It’s understandable that some West Virginia teachers take offense to TFA.  Here’s what one former teacher wrote on the Facebook page Don’t Teach For America, that opposes TFA in West Virginia. “This is a slap in the face to teachers who have worked hard for their degrees and certifications.  The main problem with the lack of teachers in WV is money.  The pay is pathetic.”

West Virginia teachers should make more money.  If we expect professionalism from educators, then they should be paid as professionals.  However, let’s keep in mind the goal is to get the most qualified person in the classroom. If Teach for America can help fill the void, even if it’s only for short periods of time, then West Virginia should utilize the program.


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  • Citizen/teacher/parent

    So, can a teacher take the place of a doctor,lawyer, physical therapist with a 5 week class? This Teach for America is ridiculous! They are set up to make a profit and I believe they are linked to KIPP. I've even read that it is a husband and wife show. Those two groups out spent any single organization in the last New York election. This is not what WV needs- another private out of state group taking our tax dollars. I would love to see some of these talk show people or 4 yr degree people come spend a week in a classroom for 34k! I would definitely like to come and take your 100 k + a year job and enjoy the benefits of getting to eat lunch and actually get to use the bathroom during the work day. I just want you to remember that we teach everyone in our classrooms in WV. The evening news just stated tonight that 1 in 5 babies born in WV are addicted to narcotics. Imagine what that poor child has to deal with everyday. So, I think we need to be addressing real problems and get community schools started with wrap around services to address the needs of the students. Tell the WVGop to stop taking the KIPP, and TFA money,

    • Diamond Jay

      You can teach a chimpanzee to teach fifth graders in 5 weeks.
      C'mon man, get a grip. Comparing teachers to doctors, lawyers and physical therapists is the equivalent of comparing cubic zirconia to diamonds.

      • Jiamond Day

        1). I'm sure you've been teaching all this time, and it's so easy.
        2). At least the chimps would be allowed to fling poo at the kids who cause trouble.
        3). What teacher pissed you off when you were little?

  • Teacher

    I don't see salary as an issue; it is the job. We love to teach but are getting sick of dirty politics, double standards, and true lack of educational intelligence from boards and administrators.

  • Bandaid

    Just putting a band-aid on another problem without attempting to fix the problem. So there has been no alternative to the current teacher shortage for years? So we just the mask the problem and move on. Typical. No other choices eh? We are really content as a society to charge it to the next generation.

  • The bookman

    We accept the presence of TA's and GA's in our colleges and universities. I don't see how this is fundamentally different. Certainly the preference would be to have a certified teacher in his or her content area in front of students, but in the absence of that as an available option, why not TFA as an option?

    • Teacher

      Colleges house adults with hopefully literacy skills in place. That is not the case on the elementary level.

      • The bookman

        Question: Have you ever taken a college course where your instructor was a TA or GA?

        • Kate

          My son had one in Morgantown. It was the only class that he made less than an A in all four years! Oh, and he was on a full scholarship.

          • The bookman

            Kudos to your son! However, they are very commonplace throughout higher Ed, and are facilitated in much the same way as TFA. Would we prefer certified teachers? Sure! These are short term fixes to real shortages faced by county systems throughout the state.

            But I think we all know that if we had certified teachers in every classroom aligned to content, paid them a salary that topped the national scale, and incorporated rigorous standards with all the supporting resources money could buy, statewide achievement would barely inch forward.

            Where parents require students to achieve, they achieve. Where parents fail to place priority on education, students fail to reach potential. We have to break the cycle. And although all of the efforts to address structural shortfalls in our public schools like the lack of certified teachers and substandard teacher pay, in the end we are really fixing those problems specifically, not addressing substandard student achievement.

            Fixing that problem is more of a social and economic issue, not an educational one.

  • peleliu

    This is a great idea, in 5 weeks of training one can teach, using the same logic one could take a one minute cram course and become a journalist or a reporter.
    I can see myself taking my kid to a Dr. who has had a 20 weeks of intense training to be a Dr....... not going to happen.

    • Kate

      Don't answer the broken record below.

      • Aaron

        Posted...dagnabbit auto correct

      • Aaron

        You've podted nothing to support your argument. Wait, you've not even made a legitimate argunent, all you've done is whine.

    • Aaron

      I will pose the same question you as our price below. How does the extra 100 hours spread over three years make one more qualified to be a teacher.

      I really wish one of the opponents of TFA Couls answer this because this is something that I am personally looking into for my future.

      • kate

        Finally, you've answered my questions about why you aren't hearing anything that opponents to the bill are saying. Thanks for clarifying that for us. There's nothing we can say to deter you, so all I will say at this point is, good luck. You seem to have all the answers, though, so have at it.

        • Aaron

          There is no finally because you've ask no question, just like you've not offered nothing to the conversation other than anecdotal comments. At least Sam tried to answer below, even though he was wrong.

          • hugh

            "Not offered nothing" qualifies you to become a TFA grammar instructor.

      • Sam

        Part of the 100 hours you refer to is in a practicum where the prospective teachers is supervised in front of real students. This is type of hands-on experience that can not be accomplished in a 5 week course. By the way the final practicum is 6 to 8 weeks--5 days a week--8 hours a day.

        • Aaron

          That's not accurate. In the Transition to Teach program, if accepted, you are immediately placed into a classroom with an alternative teaching certificate and are hired as a WV teacher while also completing online course work. At the end of the year, you take a PRAXIS II test and if you pass it and receive satisfactory evaluations among other steps, you receive your certification. If you do not pass the test or if you wish to be a special education teacher, you must complete another year of coursework. There is not practicum. In reality, a TFA teacher actually has MORE training than a WV approved TtT teacher. It seems to me that the TtT program provides less hands on training despite costing the teaching candidate more money.

          Wonder why that is.


        • Aaron

          Why can WV not amend the bill to include the practicum?

      • Shadow

        Teachers, like Nurses, are born, not made.

  • vashti

    Seriously an intensive 5 week program suffices for a 4 year degreed program? why not give a biologist an intensive 35 week program and call him a doctor. he has a sort of medical background. just because you have program knowledge does not mean you can teach. i could refer you to several college courses i took that would prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Teaching is a profession let us treat as such and show the respect necessary.

    • Aaron

      Can you explain how the extra 100 hours spread out over 3 years qualifies someone more?

      • Kate

        Aaron trolls all day, every single day. Get a job and stop asking the same questions every single day. Here's an answer for you...my nephew is in his third year of med school. Nurses are in school four years. This is my last lucid answer to you.

        • Aaron

          I will take that as no, you d. Not have a clue.

    • vashti

      meant 5 week

  • mntnman

    This session has produced a lot of nothing for public education in WV. Charter schools -- tinkering around the edges. Common core -- ideological opposition to something that isn't hurting our children. Alternative certification -- we can do better than this.

    We know what we need to do -- move power to the local level, as everyone has suggested, the research supports and the audit recognized. The legislature pays a lot of lip service to the issue -- but it doesn't do anything about it.

    Free counties up to innovate, improve and change the education model. While we have some methods to do it now, it is so complicated that it is rare to do. (Mercer County is doing it in a limited fashion -- we are in month 8 of the process. We will not know if we can make the changes we seek for another 6 months if we are lucky. They will likely not take place until the 2016-17 school year. That means it took over two years to implement changes we could have done in six months if left to our own devices.)

    If the legislature really wants to see public schools improve, then set all counties free -- to implement new models of education to our children. Free us from the thousands of pages of state board policy, from the hundreds of pages of statutes,) The local level is the place to innovate. We are stifled now form doing so. The State Board and legislature are those who are accountable for this mess.

    This session of the legislature has been pretty much a waste for public education in WV. If you don't think so, check out public schools in two years and see if they are any different.

    • The bookman

      Can you explain how you can support both a nationalized standard adopted on behalf of all 55 County School systems by the Department of Education and local control of education as a way forward?

      Given that the Standards were heavily influenced by the Assessment and Curriculum Service Providers, achievement will be measured by testing performance, directly leading to curricular pressure on school districts. Are we not moving in a direction away from local control by accepting a nationalized standard?

  • Red Dwarf

    When I was a first-year teacher back in '87, I had 50-55 students per class in 7th through 9th grade English class. These classes were of mixed abilities (read 'mainstreamed'). I would have welcomed ANY help to lighten that load. The following years weren't any easier. My starting pay was around $900 a month, if I recall.

  • Aaron

    How many of the 4 years a student spends as an education major are actually spent on education? Seems I recall that in discussing student loans, one poster mentioned that 45 hours, or about 1/3 of the hours needed for a bachelors degree were required in education?

    Or one with bachelors degree, one can participate in the transitioning to teaching program. That requires 22 hours of college credit in educational training within 3 years, or at least that is what has been explained to me.

    If you break down 22 college credit hours, that equates to 330 hours of class room training. People are jumping all over the 5 week course but that includes 40 hours per week, which is 200 hours.

    The reality in comparing the WV Legislature approved course to TFA is 130 hours in actually classroom training time. And while that is significant amount of time, an argument can be made that one can learn more over a short period of time than they can by stretching 7-8 college classes over 3 years.

    Instead of automatically rejecting TFA as inefficient or claiming it does not work, why aren't teachers working with organizations like TFA to ensure they do work?

    • mntnman

      You are absolutely right. My daughter is in her fourth year in the teacher education program at Concord U, a renowned teachers school. Far too little of her education has been on education, far too much on liberal arts. It needs to shift dramatically. It won't. She will tell you they are wasting much of her time this semester -- she had several classes on, ready for this -- bulletin boards -- I couldn't believe it. She intends to give them a rousing exit interview -- once she has her degree in hand that is.

      • Aaron

        Thank you sir for your response. I though you had said that but couldn't remember. I think most on here respect your stance on education thus your imput, at least to these conversations, are very valuable. I wonder, what are your thoughts for filling many of these vacancies?

  • Ole Sasquatch

    Until there is a thorough audit as to having control in the classroom - I'm talking about Middle & High Schools nothing will improve.
    Local politics do not allow the teacher to gain control of the classroom.
    Therefore it's all a waste. If you have a sub. that finds a way to gain more control in the classroom - that person will be worth more pay than a so called professional who just stands up there teaching to a room full of kids sleeping or casually talking to their neighbor and I don't mean whispering - they would not understand why they would whisper when they freely can talk out loud. That is the classroom of today.
    No CONTROL IN THE CLASSROOM It's all that simple folks no need to try to complicate it or throw more money away.

    • Jess

      Sadly, the same behaviors are ramping up in the elementary schools.

  • CC

    And this is exactly why I left a West Virginia classroom. We are not treated as professionals in so many areas. Salaries need to increase. . . by driving 30 minutes, I increased my salary by more than $10K. And a five week course on how to teach. . . why don't you minimize our educations? I spent many summers and evenings in the college classroom to obtain my Master's Degree. And this is for two years? Talk about instability! Ridiculous!

    Sorry Hoppy, you are in left field on this issue! Spend some time in a public school classroom and let me know how you fair!

    West Virginia school teachers deserve more respect than what you have given them in this editorial!

    • Aaron

      With some of the worst attendance rates among state workers, refusal to adhere to drug testing or a dress code, do teachers collectively act as professionals? Seems to me that there is a segment of teachers who want to be treated like professionals without actually being professional.

      • vashti

        why does drug testing eqqual professionalism pray tell

        • Aaron

          It is but one aspect of being a professional. I cannot think of one career that would be considered professional that does not require drug testing, other than education. Can you.

          For the record I think showing up for work and proper dress attire are important as well.

      • Kate

        Drug test me right after the parents of chronically truant and drugged kids that cause the greatest problems in WV schools. I'm willing.

        • Aaron

          I think I've read one teacher who stated they were willing to accept their responsibility and subject themselves to drug testing. In an industry in which estimates run as high as 60% of teachers use illegal drugs at least once a week, I say again, if you want to be treated like a professional, act like one.

          • Big Game

            Aaron, evidently they have to have some way of coping with arses like you and your kids.

          • Aaron

            Sorry, my fat fingers fail me. The admitted number is actually 6 to 10% who ADMIT to illegal drug use. Estimates are as much as 25%.

            Recovery first did a study and found that nearly half of all teachers admitted to some form of prescribed, mood altering drug use (xanax seems to be the favorite) or heavy alcohol use.

            So why do you reckon so many teachers use?


          • Kate

            Aaron, you spew trash. Provide your proof, or close your trash mouth. People really get tired of your same old rhetoric. I'm sure you're the life of the party at social events! Go wrap another bl**t and get ready for bed.

          • WTH?

            Aaron, 60% of teachers use illegal drugs at least once a week? You know that is a bold faced lie, unless you have proof? There are probably some teachers getting high, but 60%...come on...get real.

  • Sam

    I don't disagree with TFA as a program to help fill teaching positions with quasi qualified classroom teachers. It is a lot better than some of the alternatives. However, it is only a band aid fix to the problem. There is a reason and rationale teachers get paid increments for years service. With more time in the classroom comes more experience and in most cases better implementation of programs. With TFA you are only looking a 2 year program. This doesn't allow enough time to become experienced in the classroom.
    Secondly one of the biggest obstacles to enticing and keeping classroom teachers is classroom management. Education majors spend much time in course work in this area. Even with the training they still sometimes fail and leave the profession. TFA teachers would lack any of this training and could become discouraged very quickly. There is an old saying in education that states that you have to have the student's attention if you are going to teach them. Finally as a classroom teacher matures as a teacher they gain valuable methods and materials for the art of teaching.

    If we want to improve education we need to attract new trained teachers, fairly evaluate and do whatever is needed to improve the teachers we already have, and keep good teachers in the system. TFA will not do any of these things.

  • peleliuh

    How many of us actually use Algebra after we had the class?

  • Bill Hill

    The pay isn't the only thing that is pathetic. Many local administrations are so busy building their little empires they fail as educators. They make teaching miserable for those in the classroom. In fact many in the local board offices are incompetent. It seems that many administrations are made up of people who have been a failure in the classroom.

    That being said, there are far to many people in the education department pushing their idea of what education should be. There is to much of trying something new instead of sticking to what works. It burns me up some many want more technology in the classroom. A computer and all the software on earth isn't going to help the student that can't read or has not idea about the principles of math. All the word processing software ever created with all the bells and whistles isn't going to help the child that has no understanding of grammer, spelling, syntax, and how to form and present and idea.

    Instead of having kids run around with intellababy learning about having a child, they need to run around with books learning about the love of reading.

    It is time to clean house in my opinion. The department needs to be cleaned out as does local board of education. It is time to go back to the basics of education. Students need to be taught the basics of math, reading, grammer, spelling, and writing. They need to be taught basics history and science.

    One final point, it needs to be made very clear to students and parents alike, that a standard of behavior exists for a reason. If your kid can't behave, they will face consequences for their actions. If parents don't like that, then they can take their kid out of school and educate them themselves.

    • Curmudgeon

      I think you mean "grammar" not "grammer.". That was the word you typed right before spelling.

  • Karie

    Hoppy, if the goal is to really "get the most qualified person in the classroom", how is TFA's five-week immersion program supposed to nail it?

    What kind of a smokescreen are you trying to send up for this legislature that is trying to avoid addressing the real problem....salaries? Highly qualified young West Virginia teachers are graduating and goose stepping into other states for higher pay. And, we are hiring teachers who have immersed for five weeks. Where is the logic here?

    Students in teaching programs are being forced to pass a growing list of expensive tests before graduation and Teach For America teachers immerse in "training" for five weeks! Legislators, and you, Hoppy, should be ashamed for advocating the use of TFA instead of addressing the real problem in schools in West Virginia....truancy, student apathy, drugs, discipline issues, worthless initiatives, and competitive salaries.