Policy embodiment', alternative routes to teaching, and Teach For America teachers in traditional public schools

Year: 2017

Author: Thomas, Matthew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A vociferous policy debate concerning Teach For America (TFA) and alternative licensure programs can be heard in many countries where 'Teach For...' initiatives are found. Programs in Australia, New Zealand, and approximately 40 other countries now prepare and place novice teachers in schools as a result of alternative licensure policies and the umbrella organisation, Teach For All. Research on the comparative effectiveness of these teachers abounds (McConney, Price, Woods-McConney, 2012), yet limited scholarship has examined how these 'Teach For...' teachers must negotiate the often hostile reactions from their more traditionally-trained colleagues. Drawing on interview data with 27 Teach For America teachers in public schools in the Midwestern United States, this paper uses a sociocultural policy analysis framework to explore how these teachers are positioned as embodiments of alternative licensure policy and the larger organisation, TFA.

The paper therefore adds nuance to the ongoing debate concerning TFA and related alternative licensure (e.g., fast track) options. Yet on a broader level it also introduces a new approach to considering educational policies through the bodies of teachers. Based on the findings, I posit the notion of 'policy embodiment', or the inscription of educational policy on the bodies of teachers whose presence in schools serves as a visual representation of the perceived shortcomings, rightly or wrongly, of controversial educational policies. I contend this embodiment goes beyond their roles as actors or implementers of policy. The notion of policy embodiment is premised on a sociocultural approach to educational policy (Levinson & Sutton, 2001; Shore & Wright, 1997) and lends new insights into the ways teachers/TFA corps members recognize and mitigate their complex positions in public schools. Finally, it shows how those who enter professions through alternative paths, including but not limited to teachers, are perceived by 'insiders' who completed more extensive traditional forms of training and preparation.