Opportunities in teaching.
The reasons for choosing and staying in teaching are as varied as the lives and careers of the estimated 2.9 million teachers in our nation's elementary and secondary classrooms. Firmly believing that teaching is not just a job or career choice but a special commitment, I always ask students in my classes and attendees at recruitment events to reflect upon their motivation for teaching: "I like kids." "I want to share my enthusiasm for physics with students." "My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Green, believed in me and made me think - I'll never forget her." "I want to give something back to my community."
Such impulses to make a tangible difference in the lives of children - particularly lower-income, inner-city youth for whom schools too often have not worked - will be familiar to many prospective teachers and readers of this article. Their sense of vocation notwithstanding, what is often less clear, and therefore frustrating, to aspiring teachers is understanding how one prepares for entry into the teaching profession. How does one navigate the seeming maze of teacher education and credentialling requirements to translate those well-meaning intentions and ambitions into a satisfying, productive career?
The Context for Teaching in the 1990s and Beyond
The 1990s are an exciting time to enter teaching. After substantial declines in the enrollment figures of teacher education programs during the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with a decline in the number of entrants into teaching, particularly among African Americans, the outlook for the status and vitality of the profession is turning around. Why?
The 1990s are a time of debate and sustained efforts to bring change in education. Current reform movements found their inspiration and gained momentum in the decade following the National Commission on Excellence in Education's 1983 reform report, A Nation at Risk. While educators debated the merits of the report itself, A Nation at Risk accomplished an important feat that shapes the context for teaching today: It secured for public schooling prominence on the national agenda.
Since then, efforts to reform schooling have come in a variety of different and at times divergent strands, from calls for back-to-basic curriculum and national standards and debates about revising teacher licensing, to school restructuring efforts that require a reconceptualization of the role of teachers. Change has been incremental but meaningful.
Recent years have brought teachers better salaries (the average salary for teachers in 1993-94 was $35,958, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education, 1994, Table 77), greater autonomy through site-based management, lower teacher-student ratios, and career-ladders designed to recognize achievement. If you enter teaching today, you may find yourself in a classroom that is fundamentally different from the one you knew while growing up.
Will There be a Job for Me?
Projections published by the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that by 1997 school enrollments will surpass the 1971 peak created by the "baby boom" generation, and that this trend is "expected to continue to increase into the next century." Officials estimate that by the year 2000 public elementary school enrollments will have risen 8 percent from 1994 levels and that public secondary enrollments will have grown by 12 percent. (Education Digest, 1994, p. 5)
While these figures are encouraging, the availability of teaching positions depends on shifting and at times shrinking budgets as well as district hiring and seniority policies. The number of vacancies will vary by grade level and geographical location. In teaching no less than in other professions, finding the best job for you - measured in terms of salary, desired grade level, resources for professional development and other factors - may require mobility. Generally, the critical areas for recruitment are TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and ESL (English as a Second Language), mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual education. Growth and demand in these fields will likely be fostered by reform initiatives such as Goals 2000 (national goals articulated by politicians and educators), by immigration patterns, and by policy debates. In the wake of discussions over the advisability of "mainstreaming" students formerly assigned to special education, for instance, all teachers, regardless of specialty, will find training in special education an asset both in the job market and their daily classroom practice.
Today's teaching corps is predominantly female, White, middle-class, and middle-aged. According to estimates published by the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 1991 only 8 percent of the country's 2.4 million public school teachers were African Americans (Table 69). The disparity between the increasing minority student population - often the majority population in a given school, particularly in the inner city - and the uneven success of colleges and university teacher education programs in recruiting and graduating teachers of color and, beyond that, the difficulties public schools have encountered in diversifying their staffs warrant concern.
What is clear is that the public schools need more good teachers and, beyond that, that teachers of color are underrepresented. Why?
Historically, African Americans regarded teaching as a career that brought upward mobility when racial barriers excluded them from other professions. Ironically, policies implemented in the post-Brown v. Board years meant that numbers of African-American teachers and administrators lost their jobs. In more recent years, the number of African-American teachers has been adversely affected as people who earlier might have entered teaching instead pursued more lucrative and higher status careers in business and law. Research further suggests that the scarcity of African-American entrants has been worsened by a selection process in teacher education that relies on competency testing and grade point averages and often excludes individuals who might make good teachers.
The demographics of high school graduation, college attendance, and expected teacher retirements suggest that the demand for teachers of color will not be met by recent college graduates alone. Forward-looking universities and school districts therefore are increasingly exploring ways to provide programs tailored to attract and meet the needs of mid-career entrants, such as ex-military personnel and former company managers, particularly men and women with expertise in math and science, as well as former participants in education-related programs such as the Peace Corps.
What rewards and challenges are there for teachers of color? Many teachers enter the classroom hoping to be a role model or mentor for their students. They believe that quality education is a key to fighting poverty and making possible a better future for low-income children. They, in turn, find satisfaction and a sense of civic engagement working with kids. For this reason, recruiters are interested in attracting African-American graduates into the profession and especially in encouraging African-American males to consider teaching, particularly at the elementary level.
The reasons for recruiting teachers of color, however, rest not only in the drive to provide role models or mentors for African-American children and other students of color. The world of the 1990s and beyond demands cultural understanding and tolerance that rests on giving majority students and teachers the opportunity to work collegially with people from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, the current school restructuring movement and debates about curriculum and teacher professionalism need the voices of diversity. Otherwise, the educational system will not be transformed inclusively.
What Are the Steps in Becoming a Teacher?
First-year teachers, despite their preparation, are often surprised by how intellectually and emotionally challenging and, in fact, exhausting the first year of teaching can be. It is important for students considering a career in education to understand that strong teachers display dedication, mastery of their subject matter, and passion for learning and working with youngsters, but also recognize and value the importance of professional training and continued reflection on classroom practice.
If you are thinking about teaching, consider these two key areas while developing your career plans: preparation and professional development.
First, preparation. It's never too early or too late to consider teaching. A variety of paid, volunteer, and extra-curricular activities - tutoring, coaching, sorority/fraternity-sponsored youth programs, church-related work, and community service projects - will give you an invaluable opportunity to understand children's learning and the student-teacher relationship, as well as to reflect on your ideas about what education is and might be, and to evaluate your interest in teaching.
If you are a college student considering a career in teaching, look for a "grow your own" fellowship program or other teacher recruitment project in your area, try to attend a pre-teaching institute or program - particularly one targeted at candidates from ethnically underrepresented groups - or perhaps think about teaching in enrichment program for youngsters, such as Summerbridge.
If you have already graduated, visit classrooms to observe teachers and students and better decide whether you would like to teach in elementary or secondary schools (these require different academic preparation and different teaching licenses). Apply for a per diem or substitute teaching certificate or volunteer to work in the public schools.
In all cases, become familiar with the language of teacher education (pre-service, in-service, reciprocity, etc.) and the credentialling requirements in states where you anticipate job-hunting. The requirements for a teaching license, including standardized testing, vary by subject, grade level, and state. Explore the reciprocity of credentials among states and special initiatives such as California's CLAD (Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development), which infuses cross-cultural work and language study into teacher education. The Career Service or Teacher Education Office at a local institution of higher education should be able to field your general questions about teacher certification. More specific inquiries about up-to-date requirements (fees, fingerprinting procedures, deadlines) and requests for a review of your transcripts (citing relevant prior course-work) should be addressed to the State Department of Education. Be sure to keep a copy of your correspondence for your own records.
You do not have to "major" in education to become a teacher, but you do have to have a solid academic background in the field you would like to teach. Students who have decided early upon a career in teaching might enroll in a state-approved undergraduate teacher preparation program or five-year program. These programs are available at public and private institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Others enter teaching having graduated with a four-year liberal arts bachelor's degree or perhaps having embarked on a different career before deciding to teach. Regardless, there are several options for securing your teaching credential.
Many graduate schools of education, for instance, offer one-year master's degree programs, leading to state certification, for pre-service teachers. This usually involves 32 to 40 credits of course-work and supervised student teaching. The trend among policy-makers is to consider requiring a fifth year of preparation.
Recognizing the benefit of a quality clinical induction for teachers - comparable to that offered in law or medicine - some institutions have incorporated summer teaching schools, paid internships, or university-school partnerships, such as professional development schools (PDS), that offer prospective teachers greater guidance and earlier exposure to different teaching styles and classrooms and interactions with master teachers.
Finally, consult up-to-date financial aid handbooks (these are available at Career Services, public libraries, and the Internet) and investigate loan forgiveness programs. Bear in mind that changes in federal student aid programs and the outcome of political discussions surrounding affirmative action programs may affect the availability of certain forms of tuition assistance, but that many fellowship opportunities exist and will continue.
In recent years, alternative paths to teaching have emerged. Teach for America is a two-year program that provides recent liberal arts graduates with an eight-week summer training session and placement in an under-staffed school. In addition, the majority of states have instituted their own training programs leading to certification in hopes of attracting teachers in certain areas as well as nontraditional candidates. The efficacy of these new credentialling tracks is still being reviewed by educators and school districts. To learn about these opportunities and the career paths of their participants, contact your County Superintendent's office and State Department of Education.
This article focuses on public schooling because this is where most teachers do, in fact, teach. The number of teachers in private and parochial education in this country is relatively small. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that by the year 2004, 3.29 million students and .42 million teachers will be in the private system, compared to 49.5 million students and 3.29 million teachers in the public system. The lower salaries that non-public schools offer are offset by smaller classes, a self-selected group of students and parents, and a value-oriented, and in some instances residential, context for teaching and learning.
What Makes a Successful Teacher?
Regardless of where you teach, you will find that despite the "perks" of regular school hours, winter holidays, and long summer vacations, teaching is hard work. Many teachers, particularly teachers of color and those working in the inner cities, leave the classroom within the first five years. What prompts their decision? Common reasons are money, prestige, school and work conditions, and bureaucracy. According to a Gallup poll on the "Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools," teachers and schools suffer in their effectiveness because of a lack of parental involvement and financial support for schools, as well as violence (This last category was added in 1992. See Education Digest, 1994, Table 2). Yet, why do those who stay choose to do so? What distinguishes them and enables them to build satisfying careers?
The answer is mainly that these people, before starting their careers, had a realistic sense of the demands of teaching and of daily life in classrooms. They entered teaching having a set of strategies to avoid "burnout" an awareness of available resources, and equally important, found mentors and- networks of support. New teachers often receive the least attractive assignments, in schools that are underfunded, understaffed, and disportionately staffed by inexperienced teachers without adequate preparation. Such schools can offer a beginning teacher little support and rob both their students and teachers of opportunity.
By recommending that you consider realistically the professional culture of schools as you conduct your job search, I am not suggesting that educators or communities should forget about these ineffective schools, but rather that there is an exciting opportunity for teachers to work for systemic change. Your goal in job hunting should be to secure a position in a school where there will be opportunities for innovation and leadership, and where the administrators take seriously the second facet of your career planning: professional development.
I often receive calls from students who want to make a difference in schools and in the lives of children and, hence, are attracted to the field of administration. It is important to realize the power of teaching and that there are opportunities for teachers to become engaged in the larger context of education beyond their classrooms, among them participation in site-based management, grants-writing, and reading circles.
Thanks to the current reform movements there are more opportunities for teachers to be leaders and to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom. For example, the Board of Professional Standards in Teaching, founded in 1987, is one voluntary avenue through which teachers can be encouraged in their continued growth and recognized for their performance.
A poster hanging on the wall in my office says, "Teach. For A Change." It's a catchy slogan, but one anchored in truth.
RELATED ARTICLE: Wanted: Black Males
Today, one of the challenges that we face is strengthening our future. We need to become more involved in the education of our youth, for they are the leaders of tomorrow.
These days, children have many role models; however, I must point out with displeasure that not all of them are positive. The world of sports provides a wealth of role models; however, the odds of a young man reaching the NBA or NFL are not stacked in his favor. Unfortunately, many of our children are taking the wrong road to reach for what they want. Instead of getting "all the cars and all of the money," they end up in prison, or worst - they end up dead. If we are to bring about a change in our society, we must provide more positive role models for our children.
As a personnel coordinator, I see the people who have the key to open the door to a brighter future. These are the men and women who seek careers in education. Most of the time, when you speak to someone who is on the road to success, you find that it was a special person in their life who served as their inspiration. Today more than ever, we need educators to serve as the inspiration of our youth.
Working in an urban school district, we often are criticized for not having enough African-American teachers. However, it is a matter of supply and demand: The demand for African Americans, especially males, is extremely high; the supply is very low. In my home state of Pennsylvania, African-American teachers represent less than six percent (7,036) of the total teaching population (124,731). I am sure that if you look at the statistics for your area, you will see a similar picture.
Education offers many rewarding careers. Contrary to most beliefs, you can make a good living as an educator. The largest reward will be knowing that you have made a difference in the life of a child. I implore all who are looking for a career to strongly consider education. You Are Wanted.
Mark E. Holman is the coordinator of personnel for the School District of the City of York, in York, Pennsylvania.
RELATED ARTICLE: Roy Thomas
Before becoming principal of Linwood Middle School in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1994, Roy Thomas spent 10 years as a classroom teacher in a high school, then gained nine years of experience as an assistant principal at the middle school and high school levels.
As a principal, his job is to administer the school in accordance with School Board policies, maintain an effective learning environment, and promote the educational development of each student.
Thomas' career objective: "To never accept my present best as good enough, because time will make it ordinary. To allocate every teachable opportunity to students under my influence."
He advises students, "Never abdicate your responsibility for learning to anybody or anything."
Dr. Andrea Walton has taught the history and social foundations of education. She coordinates the Mellon Collaborative and the Urban Scholars and Fellows in Teaching Programs at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article on African Americans in education; employment|
|Author:||Walton, Andrea; Holman, Mark E.|
|Publication:||The Black Collegian|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1996|
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