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Make it count.

Many areas of education are foretelling drastic shortages in qualified teachers but in special education the shortages are already here. Each year, more school districts face ever harder searches for qualified special education teachers-searches that are not always successful. Sometimes the result is under- and unqualified teachers on emergency certificates. Or teachers may meet certification standards in one state and not in another, further complicating the problems.

If special education is to be successful, that is, if it is going to meet each student's needs, then recruiting quality people and retaining them has got to become a greater focus of everyone's efforts. That is the reason for CEC's campaign for recruitment and retention as well as many other such efforts, both governmental and private.

For most of this century and before, business and professional opportunities were rarely open to women and individuals from ethnic groups. Traditionally, these people had few choices save teaching. Because other professional doors have now opened to them, we have to convince today's professionals that with such ample choices "out there," teaching is still the best choice.

How? How does one individual or one group launch a "campaign for recruitment and retention"? Sounds almost military, doesn't it? Or perhaps like an effort from Madison Avenue? But I believe that is exactly how it should sound. The people we need to attract and retain-the best and the brightest because the children deserve no less-are used to being courted and wooed with strong advertising and sophisticated imaging.

Consider such effective people-marketing as the U.S. Army's "Be all you can be." Or the United Negro College Fund's "The mind is a terrible thing to waste." These are strong, clear messages designed to be heeded.

Education, too, needs to update its packaging. There is nothing unprofessional about effective marketing. To bring the best people into special education, we have got to realize that we are competing with the big boys of public relations.

We need to reach the young person selecting a career, the mid-lifer looking for a career change and rejuvenation, and perhaps even the regular educator looking for something different. And we have the perfect public relations agent--the children themselves. Our recruitment and retention campaigns must have all the pizazz and polish of a Madison Avenue campaign but the showcase is not golden arches or a new and improved mousetrap. Our product is the children and the satisfaction of an important job well done.

Because teaching counts. Children count. Recycling-not wasting a single bit of material--has become almost the embodiment of the 1990s. Education must muster a marketing effort of a similar scale that teaches us all that likewise no single child is disposable! If we care so much to save the trees, we must also learn to save the children, all children. And the professional best able to save a child with a severe learning disability, one with multiple disabilities, or a disaffected gifted youth is the teacher. And by save," I do not mean with a missionary's zeal but by utilizing a professional's skills to guide that child to his or her maximum levels of development for the benefit of both the child and society.

Special education has valuable opportunities to offer. As education reform heats up, for better or worse, the bright light of scrutiny can offer bright, talented individuals chances to shine at the same time-and this is special education's advantage over the other professions-that an individual can count. Because education matters, the individuals who make education their profession matter. They matter to society at large, to the parents of their students, and most of all to the students themselves.

It is time for education and its proponents to package that message and package it properly. Millions of dollars are spent on proper marketing of everything from a military career to the proper image of political candidates. Education needs to join the marketing revolution of the 1990s and turn its best side to the camera.

This is not to say we should cover up the flaws or try to minimize them. Measures such as less paperwork, better pay, more curricular control and authority, and better preservice and inservice training, have all been proposed in varying instances and combinations and all deserve serious consideration. However, problems and their solutions can be incorporated into our messages of recruitment and retention. We can invite the best minds to meet the challenges, propose the solutions, and lead us in working them through. The solutions can be as creative and as liberating as corporate advancement can be confining and confusing. The politics of the office can give way to the drama of education with no loss of truth or integrity and a gain in self-fulfillment.

And solutions can come. As private businesses face increasing pressure to contribute to the schools, why not take some of the elements that already exist and "reform" them? For instance, just as people have for years endowed a university chair for a particular purpose or to honor an individual, why not ask local businesses to endow a teaching position, maybe a master teacher who will be free to mentor his or her peers. The sponsor names the "chair" but the peers choose the teacher to receive the post, either for one year, several, or in perpetuity. Or local businesses could be asked to endow a summer training institute or local, classroom-based research, both conducting it and replicating it.

Likewise, as the private sector experiences an oversupply of workers in some areas, they spend a considerable amount of money on separation packages, including job counseling and resume writing. Why not include information on retraining for a career in special education? Many universities have such programs and if not, the local businesses can endow such a program. Such efforts could take many forms and would make the whole painful process of staff reduction somewhat less difficult if there were bright and promising alternatives to offer good people.

Sabbaticals for business professionals that would allow them to spend a year in the school, perhaps in a team situation with a master or other experienced teacher, would also allow those outside education to test the educational waters before switching. Early retirement could also offer many an opportunity to try special education.

For those people just choosing a job, again, letting them get to know and work with special education's children is often the most decisive factor. The expansion of CEC's high school clubs and mentoring done by CEC members and others need to be nurtured and expanded.

All these efforts can comprise the many fronts of our professional campaign to recruit and retain competent individuals to educate children with disabilities and those who are gifted. Any action from a single individual telling a neighbor about her profession to a province-wide meeting, from a successful video to a 30-minute club meeting, can expand the campaign. What unifies all our efforts is the message: Teaching counts. So make a career choice that counts.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:special education teacher shortage
Author:Greer, Jeptha V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Small-group instruction for students with learning disabilities: observational and incidental learning.
Next Article:Academic behavior and grades of mainstreamed students with mild disabilities.

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