Recently accepted into Teach For America (TFA), UC Santa Cruz history major Luis Falcon will return to teach at his high school, Downtown College Prep. As a charter school in San Jose, Downtown College Prep’s main purpose is to help first generation college students prepare for attending and applying to college.
“I became interested in [TFA] in high school,” Falcon said. “But I wouldn’t say I was on the academic path to go to a university then, so I didn’t really see myself being a teacher just yet. I kind of had ambitions to do it, but I wasn’t certain about it.”
TFA places college graduates in various cities across the country, allowing them to serve one to two year terms teaching at schools in low-income communities.
It wasn’t until Falcon personally experienced a gang violence attack — during which he was stabbed nine times in East San Jose Park — that he realized what he needed to do.
“After I got out of the coma, I was in the hospital bed thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be in this position. What are the circumstances of my neighborhood that led me to be here? What negative choices did I make? Or, what’s going on in my neighborhood?’ I started to analyze everything and definitely started to see that the lack of educational opportunities in my neighborhood contributed to where I was,” Falcon said.
Alternatively, UCSC education professor Lora Bartlett sees TFA cases such as Falcons’ — where he gets to teach in his hometown — as rare.
“Teach for America is not a program that’s typically placing people from the community in their community,” Bartlett said.
While Falcon expressed a strong desire to remain as a teacher in San Jose following his time with TFA, Bartlett said the program largely produces turn over teachers, or teachers who move on following their time at TFA, and may not even go into the teaching field.
“The [TFA] program is not really about recruiting and building a teacher workforce,” Bartlett said. “[TFA’s] concept is teach for a couple of years before you go on to do the real work in your life.”
Aside from using TFA to become a teacher, Bartlett pointed out other programs and internships for those interested in the education field.
“There are other programs people can go through that don’t put them almost immediately in front of a classroom with 30-35 students on their own,” Bartlett said.
One such program offered at UCSC is the California Teach (Cal Teach) program. Offered every quarter, Cal Teach provides students with first hand experience in local middle schools and high schools, as well as a 2-3 unit class accompanying the internship.
Cal Teach resource center director Gretchen Andreasen sees the program as an opportune time for students to explore the profession, even if they’re only slightly interested in the teaching field.
“We help undergraduates explore the idea of being a teacher,” Andreasen said. “We work with students who are all over the map in terms of their idea of teaching when they come to us.”
While all students are encouraged to join Cal Teach, the program primarily focuses on students looking to teach in the fields of math and science, considering the need for teachers in these subjects, Andreasen said. Part of this training to become math and science teachers is focused on making sure Cal Teach students excel in their major studies.
“Because [Cal Teach’s] goal is to get more science and math students into teaching positions at the K-12 level, we really try to encourage students to focus on success in their major as the highest priority in terms of what they can do as an undergraduate to prepare for teaching,” Andreasen said. “We try to fit the Cal Teach internships in and around that.”
Though TFA may be the right fit for students such as Luis Falcon looking to move directly into the teaching career, Andreasen sees Cal Teach as a good option for students who aren’t so set on teaching.
“The benefit [of joining Cal Teach] can be huge for people who don’t continue on into teaching, because it gives them an opportunity to realize it’s not a good choice for them, rather than wasting a lot of money and time doing something like [TFA] to discover it’s not going to be their thing or going into a credential program,” Andreasen said. “They can get enough of an idea to make a good decision, whether or not it’s a good fit for them.”
For more information on Cal Teach, visit http://calteach.ucsc.edu.