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Amy Napleton
Middle school science teacher Amy Napleton (Photo Steve Niedorf)

Forging
a  New Path
           to Teaching

By Andy Steiner

Most educators begin their careers after earning a degree from a traditional teacher-preparation program. But in some regions, the demand for teachers in areas of need has encouraged education leaders to develop nontraditional ways to recruit and prepare new teachers.

In the Twin Cities, for instance, the national organization Teach for America (TFA) has partnered with the University of Minnesota to launch a new teacher-preparation program that will prepare urban educators who come from nonteaching backgrounds.

TFA recruits a diverse pool of recent college graduates and career-changing professionals who have a track record in both leadership and academics. The Alternative Pathways to Teaching Program at the University’s College of Education and Human Development prepares TFA corps members over an in-depth, eight-week summer program. That fall, they become the teacher of record for classrooms in struggling urban or rural schools. The new teachers receive ongoing support from the University, school-based mentors and TFA instructional coaches, and their teacher training at the University continues through that school year and the next.

“As part of our work in teacher preparation, we had long intended to support an alternative pathway program,” said Kayla Yang-Best, the Foundation’s education director. “When the University and TFA came together, we were eager to support the planning and launch of this first true alternative pathway to teaching in Minnesota.” The Foundation has provided $1.9 million to support planning and startup of this Major Initiative.

Deborah Dillon, associate dean of graduate and professional programs at the University’s College of Education and Human Development, was part of the team that developed the curriculum for TFA corps members. She says these teacher candidates have the desire and ability to work in public schools for the common good. Having completed an undergraduate program at a top institution, Dillon says, “These individuals are excellent candidates for this type of program.”

With its long history of preparing teachers, the University brings to the program expertise, a commitment to research-based programs, a strong reputation and infrastructure. TFA’s established history of recruiting college graduates and professionals who are changing careers—particularly those who self-identify as people of color or as coming from low-income backgrounds—to become teachers made it a perfect partner for a program focused on an alternative pathway to teaching.

It’s easy to imagine that proponents of the University’s comprehensive teacher-preparation program might view TFA as competition. In actuality, the situation can be win/win—undergraduates and post-baccalaureate students will still enter teaching through the comprehensive pathway while the alternative pathway will make it possible for others to fulfill their dream of being a teacher, too.

Anil Hurkadli, executive director of Teach for America Twin Cities, says that alternative pathways for earning teaching degrees are key to diversifying the educator workforce and help produce more teachers who look at education from a fresh perspective.  

Now, with a year under their belt and a cohort of teachers at work in several schools across the Twin Cities, the University/TFA collaboration feels established and ready to make big changes with kids. “It’s exciting,” Hurkadli says. “This partnership shows a lot of promise, and we’re only just getting started.”