In Washington, a Magnet High School Opens Prospective
Teachers' 'Choices for the Future' By Ann Bradley
Washington--The students in the Teaching Professions Program at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School here have the routine for visitors down pat.
They are not the slightest bit shy or hesitant when asked to explain--again--why they want to become teachers.
And they do not mind when a visitor sits in on their seminar course, where some of the students report on their recent attendance at a Washington press conference that focused on teacher recruitment.
"They acknowledged us," Theresa Battle tells her classmates of the press-conference organizers. "They said they were glad that some black students wanted to become teachers."
Through many such experiences, Ms. Battle and her fellow students have come to understand that their interest in teaching holds significance far beyond their own lives. They know that the country faces a shortage of African-American teachers at the same time that the number of minority students is growing rapidly.
They also are proud that their school is considered to be a leader in stimulating interest in teaching among minority students.
The Teaching Professions Program, which began in 1988, is one in a network of about a dozen programs around the country that are encouraging students to pursue careers in education.
Teenagers in Atlanta, Cheraw, S.C., Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New York City, Pittsburgh, and San Jose, Calif., are now immersed in special teaching courses.
Although most of the schools grew up in6dependently of one another, they came together as a formal group last year under the auspices of the Association of Teacher Educators to share ideas and experiences and encourage the spread of similar programs.
In February, students and teachers representing 11 specialty teaching programs gathered at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education for a daylong "town meeting" about teaching.
Coolidge students were there in force, unmistakeable in their gray-and-orange sweatshirts. Instead of sending just a couple of students to Atlanta with a Coolidge teacher, they raised enough money so that 40 of the 130 students enrolled in the t.p.p. could make the 12-hour bus ride to the conference.
Garrett Mason, a 10th grader, proudly explains that he and four friends mailed about 50 letters to local businesses and organizations asking them to sponsor the trip.
Their response, while generous, was not totally surprising. The Coolidge program has amassed a powerful network of friends and supporters, from the Washington Teachers' Union to Howard University to a school-district business advisory council that assists the program in getting the college textbooks and other materials it needs.
It also has drawn the notice of the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which last year hailed the program as one of a dozen examples of "what works in education."
While each teaching program varies slightly--some are formal magnet schools; others are schools-within-schools--they have a great deal in common. Foremost is their emphasis on a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum that will enable students to enter teacher-education programs or any other specialty they may choose.
"Once students come out of these schools," says Mary E. Dilworth, senior director for research at aacte, "they will really have choices for the future."
At the Langley High School Teaching Academy in Pittsburgh, says coordinator Gary Smith, instilling good communications skills in students is also part of the program's "hidden agenda."
Students at Langley research topics and present their findings to their classmates in panel discussions and oral reports.
And both the Langley and Coolidge programs offer students preparation courses for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
The emphasis on moving on to college provides another way for the school to help students and their parents "start thinking about it," Mr. Smith says. "Some parents don't mention college because they can't afford it. But there is a tremendous amount of money out there through grants."
Along with their chemistry, biology, history, and English courses, the students also commonly take one course each year in education. In their freshman year, for example, Coolidge students take a class that exposes them to the teaching profession.
The next year, they delve into issues in education; in their junior year, they take a preparation-and-planning course. And in their senior year, the program culminates in an internship in a local school.
Their coursework also is liberally sprinkled with visits from special speakers, exchange students, Congressional aides doing research, and teachers who want to set up similar programs in their cities. The students also participate in professional conferences where they hear the issues they read about in their textbooks debated by professionals and scholars.
Ms. Battle good-naturedly rolls her eyes when a recent visitor is shown a videotape explaining the Teaching Professions Program. She has seen it over and over again, she says.
But teachers here say the attention they have received has helped students develop the positive self-images they will need to succeed in college and later in life as teachers.
Students do not have to wait until their final year to begin working with students. In the 9th and 10th grades, they spend a few hours a week in a practicum in a nearby preschool, learning to work with very young children.
"I think the senior practicum is too late" to judge whether students are really good candidates to teach, says Christine Easterling, the program coordinator.
Her conviction is based on her experiences with students as they learn about schools through teachers' eyes.
"We had one young man working with prekindergarten students who wanted to move to 3rd graders," she recalls. "He said they wouldn't hold still so he could make a difference. We said, 'Well, you don't hold still, either."'
Ms. Easterling says students in the program have become more attentive and have earned better grades as they have become more aware of the purposes and nuances of schooling.
To be admitted to the program, students must have 2.5 grade-point averages, which they must maintain to stay in the t.p.p.
For Tambria Spencer, the requirements mean a constant struggle to keep up her grades.
"When I got into the program," she says, "my grades started messing up."
Ms. Spencer was dropped from the t.p.p. for a semester, but returned after pulling up her average. She was motivated, she says, by her work with children.
"The little kids started helping me," she remembers. "It was cute how they would come up to you and smile."
Several Coolidge students also say their success in helping children understand their lessons convinces them that teaching is the right career path.
"They were very attentive and listened and did everything I said to do," says LaShawn Lott, remembering her practicum experience. "It made me feel like I want to be a teacher."
But the comfort and familiarity that high-school students feel in such settings also present a dilemma, notes DeborahBall, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and an elementary-school teacher.
During the Atlanta forum, Ms. Ball and other panelists gently urged the high-school students to consider whether teaching really means replicating what they now see happening in classrooms.
"The teaching you're seeing is exactly the teaching that is now being criticized," Ms. Ball told the students. "If you're not careful, you could take for granted what you see."
Instead, she urged the teenagers to think of themselves as activists who will help schools change time-honored practices in favor of strategies that work better for children.
"Schools are in big trouble right now," Ms. Ball said. "You have to ask yourself, 'Does it have to be this way?"'
The aspiring teachers in Atlanta demonstrated that they are well aware that their chosen profession is under attack. Several asked the panelists why former President Reagan had been so critical of teaching; others wanted to know who was to blame for American schools' poor marks against their Japanese competitors.
There also were questions about whether the panelists thought a longer school year or Afro-centric curricula would help, and how they thought teachers could address their students' family problems.
As thoughtful and mature as the questions were, the students asking them revealed that, in many ways, they are not so different from their peers.
Asked how many would be willing to spend more time in school themselves, only a few raised their hands.
Some students already intrinsically know what Ms. Ball was suggesting. Shaquan Odusanya, for example, says she wants to be a teacher because "a lot of teachers don't take the time out, if a kid asks them a question, to answer that child's question."
"Some teachers just don't care if a kid has a problem," she says. ''They don't do anything about it. When I become a teacher, I'm going to do the things my teacher didn't do for me."