Conference Helps Light 'Pathways to Teaching Careers'
In front of banners declaring "Teaching is Fun" and "Be a Teacher," students from the teaching magnet at South Atlanta High School here greeted visiting educators with motivational speeches, poems, and songs about teaching.
But the rousing Nov. 8 welcome was not the only boost for the educators who had come from around the country as part of the "Pathways to Teaching Careers" conference. The teachers, administrators, and recruiters also benefited from the record number of participants, who shared an interest in finding new ways to attract teachers.
The event, sponsored by the Belmont, Mass.-based Recruiting New Teachers Inc. and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund in New York City, featured new conduits into the profession.
Conference organizers said attendance jumped from roughly 160 last year to 270 this year. Dozens had to be turned away from the group's fifth annual conference.
David Haselkorn, the president of Recruiting New Teachers, attributed the upsurge in interest to heightened awareness of future requirements for the country's teaching force. He cited widespread public attention to the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future report that highlighted the necessity of recruiting and supporting a top-flight teaching force. He also pointed to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's alert that school enrollment was projected to hit record-high levels. (See "For the Record: Enrollment Surges to 51.7 Million," Sept. 4, 1996 and "Knocking At The Doors: Enrollment Sets A Record," a series starting Sept. 18, 1996.)
In addition, said Mr. Haselkorn, whose nonprofit organization promotes teaching as a career, school districts are becoming more aware that traditional recruitment techniques are not producing a racially and ethnically diverse mix of candidates. "All of this activity is beginning to coalesce in a powerful way," Mr. Haselkorn said.
At the conference, organizers released a study of precollegiate teacher-recruitment programs during the 1994-95 school year. The report, "Teaching's Next Generation: Five Years On and Growing," received responses from 253 such programs involving 50,000 students in 44 states.
The report endorses precollegiate recruitment programs, while noting that more-rigorous evaluation and increased funding to ensure program continuation are needed.
The teaching magnet at South Atlanta High School, which serves 139 students, is one such program. It offers an introductory teaching class in the 11th grade and a 10-week teaching internship in the 12th grade. Students must have at least a 2.5 grade point average out of a possible 4.0. to attend.
"We've got to encourage our best and brightest to enter the profession," said Shirley Kilgore, the principal of Booker T. Washington High School here. "Teaching is much too important to get there by accident."
Other precollegiate teacher-recruitment programs in the study have a different philosophy. For example, at Cincinnati's High School for the Teaching Profession at Hughes Center, the 75 students were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Diana Porter, the school's program facilitator, said that organizers ruled out a college-preparatory program because they did not want to shut out students who were interested in education but might want to pursue jobs that do not require a college degrees.
The conference also highlighted other routes to teaching, such as career ladders for paraprofessionals. The DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Pathways to Teaching Program in the Savannah, Ga., area enrolls 73 paraprofessionals and other noncertified school employees.
A partnership among the Savannah-based Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah State University, and the Savannah-Chatham County public schools, the program was a boon to both James Gordon and the school where he works.
Mr. Gordon, a cafeteria manager at Garden City Elementary School in Savannah, plans to complete his studies next month and has already been offered a teaching post at his school. "My principal told me last week, 'Don't you dare go anywhere else.'"