Teaching hell

Village Voice critiques the Teaching Fellow program, which gives would-be teachers a summer’s worth of training and then throws them into a classroom — usually working with the most difficult students in a poorly equipped, crowded, high-poverty school. One survivor calls it “teaching hell.”

For the first two years, fellows work on a master’s in education while teaching. The ed school classes are useless, fellows tell the Voice. Democrats for Education Reform’s quote of the day:

Total bullshit … I think I did better work in high school.”

— “Susan,” a New York City Teaching Fellow, describing the graduate level coursework in education required to become certified as a teacher.

Most are gone within five years; some move on to suburban schools while others vow never to teach again.

About Joanne


  1. In defense of the Teaching fellows, most grad school ed classes are BS, and the students are suckered into paying for them, not to mention the opportunity costs of not working full time for two years while getting the M.ED. Then, you’re pretty likely to be thrown to the wolves during student teaching.

    Teaching Fellows just expedites the process.

  2. The Fellows programs are designed to bring career changing professionals with past records of high success in their fields, into the teaching profession (one of the exact ed “cures” advocated by many commenters on this site). The Oakland Teaching Fellows summer training institute concluded last Friday. In Oakland, if not NYC, Fellows retention rate is higher compared to new teachers entering the classroom from the traditional route or other alternative credentialing programs (i.e. TFA).

    That said, I agree with anon. Judging the Fellows programs — which recruit, train, and connect teachers with the schools where they are needed — with low-quality credential courses controlled by outside agencies is pretty darn silly, and doesn’t say much for the analytical abilities of the reporter in question or VV editors.

  3. New York City Teaching Fellows take master’s courses at night at local education schools — the same ones that conventionally credentialed teachers use — while teaching during the day. They get two years of free coursework.

    The training they get before starting a teaching job usually occurs during the summer; they practice teach in summer school, where classes tend to be much smaller than the classes they’ll teach during the school year.

  4. Yup. And they take those classes, free of charge, to comply with NY credentialing requirements. It’s a hoop to jump through, and not in any way a lens through which to view any of the Fellows programs.

  5. Do you think that that’s true of wham-bam teaching programs across the country? I’m hoping to teach high school, and right now I’m deciding between a master’s-with-no-teaching-for-six-months type of program or a summer-training/courses-then-teaching-while-earning-a-degree program…and to me, the second seems better since you’re learning more “in context.” I should note that I’m about to graduate from college, so I’m not a career switcher.

  6. Either way, the education’s going to be a monumental waste of time, so take the shortest route.

  7. Ragnarok says:


    If memory serves, you once let slip that you were a mucky-muck in the Teaching Fellows program (Director, perchance?).

    Do I remember correctly?

  8. Charles R. Williams says:


    Take the shortest, cheapest route into the classroom. You will not know if teaching is for you until you teach.

    One thing you will learn in Ed school is that education classes are not an effective setting in which to learn to teach. You need to apprentice yourself to a master teacher. Of course, this is easier said than done since teacher preparation programs do not work that way. It is also very helpful to begin teaching in a school where the the administrators are committed to ensuring your success – especially with respect to difficult classroom management issues.

    Despite the practice of student teaching and the existence of mentoring programs, new teachers are simply dumped into the classroom where they sink or swim.

  9. While I largely agree with the uselessness of teacher prep programs, I would like to mention that there are some programs that do a good job of prepping teachers – I went through one. The Masters program focused primarily on a year-long internship with a Master teacher, and the classes required by NY for certification were taught with a grain of salt.
    So, just keep in mind that there are some programs that do focus on the practical aspects of teaching as you rightfully criticize the others.

  10. Yes, Ragnarok, in 2005 and 2007 I worked in a leadership role with the Oakland Teaching Fellows.

  11. I have never noticed one of these horror stories being told by a math teacher. Why are all these teachers stuck in special ed?

    Are literally *no* TFA teachers given an ordinary class? Shouldn’t that be reported, if so?

  12. OK, Cal, math teacher here.

    I went through Project Pipeline, an alternative credentialing program here in California. Went to classes at night and on weekends for two years to get my full credential whilst teaching on an “intern credential”.

    But even then my story is a little different, because I’d already taught for a year on an “emergency credential” before starting Project Pipeline.

    The instruction they gave us that first summer was useless–not because they wanted it to be, but primarily because it’s what the state requires be taught in credentialing programs. Having already taught for a year, I knew it was useless. Know what rookie teachers need to be taught? How to use a roll book (seriously!), *real* classroom management techniques (and not this B.S. democratic, let’s talk in a circle, kumbayyah crap we were taught that summer), and how *not* to be afraid to ask for help from other teachers. If credentialing courses covered nothing more than those three topics before turning teachers loose in a classroom, the teachers would be miles ahead.

  13. TMAO said:

    “Yes, Ragnarok, in 2005 and 2007 I worked in a leadership role with the Oakland Teaching Fellows.”

    And do you now feel, in light of the comments above, that it was a waste of time? If not, why not?

  14. Ragnarok,

    None of the comments above relate in any direct way to the work my colleagues and I did. They pertain to traditional teacher certification, which is generally awful, but nonetheless unrelated to any analysis of the Fellows program.

  15. TMAO spaketh thusly”

    “None of the comments above relate in any direct way to the work my colleagues and I did.”

    Surely not?

    Like “Total bullshit … I think I did better work in high school.”

    I think I remember your proclaiming on JennyD’s blog that you’d been a leader in the Teaching Fellows program. Not so? But when I looked at the job description of the “Leaders” it were mostly puffery. Ain’t that true, TMAO?

    I think it’s pretty clear that the so-called Teaching Fellows program is rubbish; perhaps it’s all that the GRE’s 25th %ilers can do, but still rubbish. If you’re really interested in doing a good job of teaching your students, perhaps you could expose this quackery for what it is?

    That would be a hopeful sign.

  16. Ragnarok,

    The quote above does not refer to the Fellows program, but rather the Masters courses NY requires all teachers to complete, regardless of route into the classroom. Notice the rest of the pull-quote: “describing the graduate level coursework required to become certified as a teacher.” See? The “coursework required to become certified as a teacher,” not the training provided by the New York City Teaching Fellows. The former is offered by a variety of universities; the latter through a program designed by The New Teacher Project. I encourage you to read both the article and my original comment thoroughly.

    As for the rest, cut the bullshit. You’re trying to provoke a response by throwing around fun little jibes: “puffery,” “rubbish,” “quackery.” If you have a definitive assertion to make regarding the Fellows programs, make one. If you have a defintive assertion to make about the position of Summer Training Institute Director, go for it. If you have a definitive assertion to make about my performance in that capacity, do so.