A+ for Effort
New government programs give would-be teachers a leg up
Wanted: Investment bankers. Earn top-notch salary in glamorous, exciting industry. Signing bonus available now.
Wanted: Public school teachers. Must endure low pay, crumbling schools, unruly charges and minimal respect.
For most Harvard students, it hasn't been a tough choice to make. As the economy has surged, huge numbers of graduating seniors have entered fields like banking and Internet technology, lured by meaty salaries and major prestige. Teaching has been literally a poor cousin, unable to match big corporations in power or pay.
"If you want to make money, there is a well-paved avenue available to you," writes R. Hunter Pierson '01, a prospective teacher, in an e-mail message. "It's called 'Harvard recruiting.'"
But the gap may finally be starting to close. Faced with a looming teacher shortage--the nation's schools will need about 2.2 million new teachers over the next seven years, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teachers of Education--federal and state governments are stepping up recruitment.
Two years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to offer a signing bonus of $20,000 to new teachers, including recent college grads, as well as intensive summer training and accelerated accreditation. Other programs, like the popular Teach for America, a national teachers' corps, make it easier for graduates to enter school systems while also giving the teaching profession an intangible sheen of prestige.
Those efforts may be starting to pay off as more and more Harvard seniors seriously consider teaching after college.
"The number of people I have talked to about teaching as a profession has been steadily rising in the last three years," says Dena O. Rakoff, an adviser at the Office of Career Services who specializes in education.
For Kyle D. Waide '95, director of public relations for Teach for America, a national teaching corps, the equation is simple. Law firms, banks and consulting companies all go out of their way to attract top college students. If schools want those students, they need to do the same.
"The fact of the matter is, it is a competitive job market," Waide says. "People are going to go where they feel needed."
Jared R. Small '02 agrees. He has long wanted to become a teacher: Since transferring to Harvard in the fall, Small joined Harvard's Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP), a group that helps students gain experience and training in teaching.
He says he teaches because he has "always loved coaching and working with kids. It's the way I can make a contribution to people. It's a lot of fun, and a rewarding way of making a career."
But Small acknowledges that education has seemed unrewarding to all but the most dedicated.
"It's about having a passion for something,... Teaching is one of the most prestigious things to do, but it's not considered that way by most people," he says.
But he says that new programs like Massachusetts' signing bonus program enhance the respect and support given to education.
State Department of Education (DOE) officials say their efforts have been successful so far. According to the DOE website, the number of new teachers recruited through the program doubled this year, to 117. Palumbo says he expects a similar number this year.
"There are a lot of people who have always wanted to teach, but in this economy, though their feelings are in teaching, they can make a lot more money elsewhere," says Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesperson for the DOE. "We are trying to make teaching respected as a high-quality occupation."
The value goes beyond the money itself, students say.
"I believe the signing bonus is an important sign of government commitment to acknowledging the vital role that teachers play in the community," Small says.
Palumbo agrees: "We want to have the best teachers in our state, and people are responding to that," he says.
Rakoff also notes that the state program makes it easier to transition from college to the classroom.
"The money offered by programs is not the lure," she says. "It is the opportunity to teach without having gone to ed school that is the real draw."
Massachusetts isn't the only state that is making efforts to recruit new teachers. A number of national programs exist that hire college graduates for teaching posts, Rakoff says, including Breakthrough for Learning in New York, Teachers for Chicago and the Mississippi Teacher Corps.
One especially popular program is Teach for America. The federally funded program, which places new graduates in "under-resourced urban and rural public schools," is meant to prevent would-be educators from drifting into other fields, Waide says.
The program worked as intended for Waide himself, he says--he might not have followed through on teaching without the support from the program.
"[It] did not change the desire, but it facilitated the ability," he says.
For the two-year commitment to teaching, Teach for America offers $4,725 per year for paying off student loans or future coursework.
"The money helps us diversify our core," Waide says. "It makes it more manageable for people to come to us who have less financial security."
Students say that despite such programs, though, there is more work to be done before parity is reached.
"Ever go to the Harvard Career Fair?" Pierson writes. "The ratio of corporations to non-profits must be near 10 to 1. It's sad. When did we get to the point where Harvard recruiting became equated with investment banking and consulting interviews? ... There's no network in place for teaching."
But with new support from government, Harvard students may increasingly find new possibilities in teaching.
"It moved me so much I could not walk away," Waide says. "There are thousands of people who want to get back and make a difference."