A recent story in the news, displayed on the UNC website, reported the large number of Carolina undergraduates who serve as Teach For America teachers. This reflects, in part, the high level of commitment that UNC graduates typically have to public service. These graduates commit themselves, for two years, to work in very challenging circumstances.
Although foundations have invested heavily in Teach For America and the media frequently spotlights the organization, it supplies a very small proportion of the teachers North Carolina needs each year. Last year, for instance, TFA teachers represented less than 1 percent of all the teachers in the state. Although their numbers are relatively small, TFA teachers sign on to work in some of the lowest-wealth schools in the state that struggle to find qualified teachers and welcome these energetic young graduates.
The overwhelming majority of new teachers in North Carolina schools, however, come from teacher education programs at in-state universities or from out-of-state teacher preparation institutions. Encouragingly, recent research from the Carolina Institute for Public Policy shows that the students of UNC system-prepared teachers outperform students taught by teachers prepared outside the state.
Without diminishing the contributions of UNC undergraduates who become TFA teachers, we should also acknowledge the students — undergraduates and master’s degree students — who are studying to become teachers, not as a two-year public service commitment but, for most, as a career.
The School of Education graduated 108 students from its undergraduate teacher preparation programs and another 52 from its Master of Arts in Teaching program last year. No less committed to improving the learning of all students than TFA teachers, most will make education a career.
Another noteworthy indicator of teacher quality comes from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which administers the rigorous National Board Certification process. UNC ranks ninth in the nation in the number of its alumni who in 2011 achieved the prestigious recognition of National Board Certification.
Sadly, we are at a moment when teachers are subject to a level of unprecedented criticism. Many factors have contributed to this, including our relatively poor showing on international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment, frustration at our struggle to close the gap in opportunity and academic success between students of color and white and Asian students, media preoccupation with sensational examples of school and system failures and a pervasive anti-government ideology.
Teachers are easy targets. They hold relatively little political and economic power. Currently, an effort is under way nationally to reduce further the modest power that they have had.
Despite this steady stream of negativity directed toward the profession, UNC undergraduates continue to pursue teaching careers.