Monday, July 12, 2010

Who Chooses to Teach Today?

In a recent article in the New York Times, the Teach for America program presents itself comparable to the Peace Corps as a way to get real world experiences in service to others while waiting for your "real" job to appear. Recent college graduates from a variety of other majors, unable to find a job in this shrinking economy, are looking for ways to stay busy, add to their resume and bring home a paycheck. Who could blame them? Not me. Those student loan payments begin within 6 months of graduation!

The problem, as I see it, is the use of classroom teaching as the substitute for their chosen career. Substitutes are always temporary. Rarely does a substitute pursue teaching as a full time career. Right now school districts all over the country are downsizing their teaching force. Not because they were over-staffed, but because they can't afford to keep those they need. Recent graduates from colleges of education are NOT guaranteed a job for this Fall which is only weeks away. If you want to be a teacher today you need to be persistent, patient, and prepared to be flexible in your idea of that perfect job.

The average starting salary for K-12 teachers in this country is approximately $34,000, however, Teach for America teachers may command $45,000 per year to start. On average Teach for America teachers only remain in the field for 2 years. It takes 3 years before new teachers get their "teaching legs" and become more effective.

As a teacher educator and former public school teacher I should be outraged that Teach for America even exists - but I can't. They are accomplishing something we ourselves are having difficulty accomplishing.

Our neediest schools need the best teachers, and yet, many beginning teachers do not want to work in them. For that matter, many of our veteran and gifted teachers do not want to work in them. Where does that leave our children in these schools? There is one value promoted by Teach for America that I believe cannot be taught - it can be encouraged, but you can't force it on someone - service. If you do not have the gift of service, you will not be willing to teach in the toughest areas or the poorest neighborhoods. If you do not have the gift of service, you are not in teaching for others, you are in it for yourself.

There, I said it.

I encourage you, if you become a corps member of Teach for America, to stay with us for the long haul. Our children need good teachers for all 12 years, not just 2. And if you leave teaching, leave to make a difference in the lives of children some other way. You are needed.

All hands on deck!