With limited training, Teach for America recruits play expanding role in schools

Michael Birnbuam:

Four months ago, Jamila Best was still in college. Two months ago, she started training to become a teacher. Monday morning, the 21-year-old will walk into a D.C. classroom, take a deep breath and dive into one of the most difficult assignments in public education.
Best is one of 4,500 Teach for America recruits placed in public schools this year after five weeks of summer preparation. The quickly expanding organization says that the fast track enables talented young instructors to be matched with schools that badly need them — and the Obama administration agrees. This month, Teach for America won a $50 million federal grant that will help the program nearly double in the next four years.
But many educators and experts question the premise that teaching is best learned on the job and doesn’t require extensive study beforehand. They wonder how Best and her peers will handle tough situations they will soon face. Best, with a Howard University degree in sociology and psychology, will teach students with disabilities at Cesar Chavez Parkside Middle School in Northeast Washington. She has none of the standard credentials for special education.
“I’m ready to go,” Best said last week at the public charter school as she put finishing touches on her lesson plans. “The challenges will come.”