We Must Make Teaching a First Choice, Not a Fallback Plan for New Graduates

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To the Editor:

Barbara Beatty is dead-on in her Commentary "How the Bad Economy Could Produce Better Teachers" (Nov. 12, 2008). Tough economic times usually see an increased interest in teaching, not only by professionals who need other options, but also, from the start, among undergraduates considering career possibilities. This has always been true. The Great Depression was the first time in U.S. history when a majority of the nation’s teachers held bachelor’s degrees because many college graduates back then suddenly “discovered” teaching as other doors closed.

Ms. Beatty is also quite right that one of the hurdles for teacher recruitment is the perceived low status of the profession. Until we raise its prestige, we will not make real progress in getting candidates of all ages and levels of experience to see teaching as a first choice, and not a fallback plan or a brief stint of service before the “real thing” comes along.

This may be the very moment to mount a concerted campaign to elevate teaching. The job market is leading many who might not otherwise have thought about it to consider teaching. At the same time, programs that promote teaching as a valued and lasting career are expanding. Teaching fellowships that include a stipend, innovative preparation, and ongoing mentoring—available to both college students and career-changers—are already being launched by my organization, other foundations, and many individual universities. President-elect Barack Obama, constrained though his national resources currently may be, outlined a similar teaching-fellowship approach in the education platform of his campaign.

This is an important time to showcase teaching as a genuinely valued first choice for talented college students and second-career professionals alike. The question will be whether the institutions still most responsible for preparing the nation’s teachers—education schools and the universities that house them—are willing to make teacher preparation a priority and raise funds for the kind of groundbreaking merit scholarships Ms. Beatty describes.

James W. Fraser
New York, N.Y.

The writer is the senior vice president for programs at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, in Princeton, N.J., and a professor of history and education at New York University.

Vol. 28, Issue 15, Page 26

Published in Print: December 10, 2008, as We Must Make Teaching a First Choice, Not a Fallback Plan for New Graduates
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