What counts in teacher recruitment

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Right on, Alan Safran!

Safran is chief of staff at the Massachusetts Department of Education, which has annoyed teacher recruiters elsewhere with its brassy campaign to lure top-flight education graduates and career- changers. Last winter, the department sent out raiding parties armed with $20,000 bonuses for 50 new teachers who would pledge to work four years in one of 13 low-income school districts. Eight hundred candidates completed applications. By the year 2004, the department will distribute a total of 500 bonuses. “We’re in the market for the best and the brightest,” Safran told Catalyst writer Grant Pick. “If we’ve caused a bidding war, I say terrific. It’s time there is a bidding war for teachers, just like there is for athletes.”

Certainly, 500 new teachers, hired over a five-year period, aren’t going to transform 13 school systems. Their stand-out status could well make them pariahs on their faculties. However, the message that this $10 million sends—that good teachers are a precious resource—is well worth the investment. As Mayor Richard M. Daley’s school team has demonstrated, reshaping public opinion is part of the job of improving schools.

Chicago has jumped on the teacher recruitment bandwagon. In partnership with the non-profit Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC), CPS is trolling far and wide for what it calls fierce crusaders, idealists driven to teach disadvantaged children. To attract them, it is touting itself as a hard-charging school system.

More important, CPS has begun to give prospective teachers a first-hand look at its schools. Last school year, it arranged a field trip for University of Wisconsin underclassmen, and CPS recruitment chief Xiomara Cortes Metcalfe wants to recruit more student teachers to CPS. Results of a survey Catalystcommissioned of recent education graduates suggest that these efforts will serve CPS well: The more the respondents had experienced Chicago and its schools, the more likely they were to want to teach in CPS. “Bring student teachers in, and have a lot of people talk about the system,” one respondent urged. ” … With literature, people are skeptical everything seems great on paper, but what is it really like?”

Showing prospective teachers what it’s really like also could chip away at what the respondents see as the biggest drawback to teaching in CPS: a perceived lack of safety. Metcalfe would like to take prospective teachers to schools like Beethoven Elementary, a neighborhood school that hangs on to teachers and families even though it is next to the Robert Taylor Homes, and the nearby Beasley Academic Center, which draws the sons and daughters of the middle class. CPS also could cite the results of student and teacher surveys conducted in the early 1990s, even before the Reform Board started expelling students who bring weapons to school: Children saw schools as safe havens, and an overwhelming majority of teachers felt safe going to and from school.

While CPS has taken giant steps in teacher recruitment, there’s much to learn from other districts. For example, with the help of a local foundation, Baltimore is renovating 40 apartments in the hopes of creating an “academic village” for novice and veteran teachers. With all the residential redevelopment under way in Chicago, our city could insist on some special housing for teachers, which would bring them closer to schools in need of teachers.

Good marketing and incentives are only part of the recruitment equation, though. Taken together, Catalyst surveys of recent graduates (this issue) and of first-year CPS teachers (the previous issue), suggest that the best recruitment tool, in the long run, is ensuring that schools have good leadership and adequate resources.

ABOUT THIS ISSUE This installment in our three-part series on finding and keeping teachers was made possible by a grant from The Joyce Foundation. The survey of recent education graduates was made possible by the cooperation of three education deans: Linda Tafel of National-Louis University, Victoria Chou of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Charles Read of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We thank them all.