High Schoolers Move to the Head of the Class

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Temple Hills, Md.

The lesson is about folklore, and Carletta Marrow gently prods her 8th graders at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School to name folk tales they've heard before. The language arts class--its size whittled down from 22 to 10 students by a school field trip--is short on answers, but the teacher continues to push.

In this spacious classroom decorated with graded papers and pictures depicting themes from projects long completed, there is an easy rapport between Ms. Marrow and her students that belies her mere two years in the classroom--the last place she, at one time, expected to be.

Ms. Marrow got a taste of teaching during high school as part of what was then a newly created teacher preparation program at her school. And, odd as it seems, that experience first led her away but then drew her to the profession.

The 25-year-old spent three years in the Teaching Professions Program at Calvin Coolidge High School in nearby Washington. The program taught her many things, but perhaps most important, she learned: "Teaching is not a profession to go into if it's not for you; I love it, but it's not for everyone."

The program is one of more than 50 "teaching academy" projects that have sprung up nationwide in recent years to encourage students to pursue careers in education as part of the high school curriculum.

These programs, a number of which have been in operation for at least 10 years, have played a significant role in getting students to become teachers. ("In Washington, a Magnet High School Opens Prospective," March 20, 1991.)

"They are highly effective," said Mary Dilworth, the senior director for research for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington.

Programs Proliferating

Districts are creating many of these programs to attract new teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, an estimated 2 million teachers will be needed over the next 10 years.

"The evidence is that there is a need for teachers, and schools recognize that they must be more proactive if they are going to get teachers,"said Segun Eubanks, the vice president of recruitment programs and services at Recruiting New Teachers Inc., which works to expand the pool of prospective teachers and improve teacher-recruitment and -development practices.

In addition to the academies, the Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit organization has identified more than 250 other high school efforts nationwide.

Those models include the Future Teachers of America, summertime academic-enrichment programs, and classes designed as part of daily school activities.

Exploring Options

The three-year program at Coolidge High, which is part of the District of Columbia system, allows high school students to acclimate to the profession by working as teaching assistants in local elementary schools and taking courses in educational planning at the high school.

The point is to give students a chance to explore career options, said Christine Easterling, the program's coordinator.

She estimates that 20 to 25 students graduate from the program each year.

"We can't really make teachers out of them because they have to go on to college," Ms. Easterling said. "Ultimately, they don't make the decision until then."

'Better Citizens'

Teachers Recruiting Future Teachers, a grassroots organization in Washington state, has set up 14 academies in high schools around the state.

"We don't expect all students to become teachers, but they will be better citizens," said Jacquie Simonds, its executive director.

Her group currently has an estimated enrollment of 300, and the academies are now seeing some of their first graduates step into the classroom.

Gretchen Girod, a 1992 graduate of the Rainer Beach High School Teacher's Academy in Seattle, has been teaching 2nd grade at Neely-O'Brien Elementary School in Kent, Wash., since September.

"For me, the academy reinforced the belief that teaching was what I wanted to do," the 23-year-old said.

Ms. Girod, who majored in special education at Western Washington University in Bellingham, described her experience with the program as beneficial. "At the time, it was really what I needed."

What Works Best

The programs that have the most effect on a student's intention to teach, according to studies conducted by Recruiting New Teachers, are those that include practical teaching experience.

"The programs that allow students to see what it feels like to teach and see the rewards of teaching are said to have the most lasting impact," Mr. Eubanks said.

The programs also help some students recognize that teaching is not a compatible career choice for them.

"It is not uncommon for kids to say that this is not what I want," Mr. Eubanks acknowledged.

Tracking students to determine who goes into education is difficult for such programs, which operate on a shoestring. More often than not, funding for them comes from the school district or through small local collaboratives.

The toughest part of evaluating the effectiveness of the programs is the lapse in time.

"It's a long way from being a sophomore in high school to going through college and then becoming a teacher," Mr. Eubanks said.

In the Classroom

As a member of the first class of Teaching Professions graduates at Calvin Coolidge in 1988, Ms. Marrow didn't have the opportunity to do any student teaching, as students in the program now do.

"There was need for more experience with the real thing," she said.

Consequently, when she left high school, she said, ''I'm not teaching."

The teacher-prep program helped her see what teaching was about, but it wasn't enough to push her into majoring in education once she headed off to Virginia State University in Petersburg, where she earned a degree in English.

But not long after, while she was working in the accounting office of a hotel, reality hit: The classroom was where she truly belonged.

With two years of teaching experience now under her belt, Ms. Marrow can look back with appreciation at the foundation and insight that the Teaching Professions Program provided her.

"I don't think that as a student I realized the effect of TPP until I was actually in the classroom," said Ms. Marrow. The teacher is now working on her graduate degree in special education.

Ms. Marrow's mentor--Ms. Easterling--holds a winter reunion of her former students now in college. About five of them will return to her Teaching Professions classroom to talk with her current students.

"It's just reinforcing the fact that the program works," Ms. Easterling said. "Tenth grade is not too early for students."

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  • The South Texas Independent School District offers a cybertour of its Teacher Academy magnet school.
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