To the Editor:
Arthur E. Levine and David Haselkorn’s recent Commentary on teacher retention and recruitment, “Teaching at the Precipice” (Nov. 5, 2008), led me to consider two issues I’ve encountered as a 25-year school superintendent in a small, rural elementary district and, currently, as a co-director of an alternative teacher-preparation program.
First, my impression has been that what a school is like to teach in is the greatest determinant, other than crucial life events, of what keeps teachers there or chases them away—from the school itself, and sometimes from the profession. Systemwide leadership, building leadership, and the culture of a school are all factors in the teaching experience there. Another is the expectations of teachers themselves.
My second impression is that there is a natural form for creating the two or three years of mentoring recommended by Messrs. Levine and Haselkorn: service as a paraprofessional. The district I served as superintendent relied more heavily than many on such workers. I found that when I could not hire experienced teachers to fill a position, an experienced paraprofessional with a teaching credential was a great alternative. Paraprofessionals from within our own district were particularly strong candidates because they had been treated as colleagues to teachers in ways that included professional development and participation in decisionmaking.
Many of the candidates in the teacher-certification program for which I now work are paraprofessionals: recent college graduates who took paraprofessional positions to stay in the area; longtime paraprofessionals who, over the years, were reluctant to take on a college or university program; and others. Because these people know what it is like to work in schools, and some have worked in schools for a very long time, they will have a relatively low turnover rate. Alternative-licensure programs that attract people who initially did not aspire to teach are one legitimate element in the effort to find new teachers who will stay in the profession.
Leonard J. Lubinsky
Hampshire Educational Collaborative
A version of this article appeared in the December 03, 2008 edition of Education Week as More on What Will Keep Teachers in the Classroom