Courting teachers: A different kind of message

May 31, 1994|By Marlene David

OUR youngest son wants to teach. I suppose his choice shouldn't surprise me, since he comes from a family of teachers.

He's grown up with tales of the classroom enlivening dinner discussions. He's seen the jammed briefcases and the Sunday afternoon journeys back to school to clear the desk, call an anxious parent or leave a congratulatory note as a start-of-week greeting.

He's heard the phone calls to the student who's home with mono, and he's seen our living room filled with a class invited to dinner. No secrets for him about what he is choosing -- a chance to make a difference with young people, a chance to affect his world in simple, yet profound, ways, enriched with the wealth of moral activism.

Then why did I worry as he assembled his resume last fall? Why did I hold my breath as I read his philosophy statement, those wonderful idealistic words tempered with just the kind of realism I would expect from this fiercely independent young man? I realized that it wasn't the classroom that concerned me; he might stumble a little, as first-year teachers often do, but I know he will be good. No, it wasn't the "doing it," it was the "getting there" -- the entry into the profession itself -- that roused my caution.

Doing what parents aren't supposed to do, I thought of his older brother's career choice. Four years ago the brother was a senior in college, his sights set on a field far different from teaching. In the world of investment banking, job applicants, once their paperwork has moved into the "A" pile, are courted. In the absence of large, national placement agencies for Wall Street, the college senior and the corporation deal directly with one another. Yes, these companies visit college campuses each spring, and, yes, initial decisions can be reached after only minutes of interviewing.

But once an invitation for an on-site visit is offered, the candidate is a guest who spends not a cent from personal funds. Airline tickets arrive in the mail, lodging is reserved in a downtown tower, potential colleagues arrange dinner plans. Until we know otherwise, we want you -- that's the clear message.

There are far more schools in this nation than there are banking companies, I tell myself, as four years later the younger sibling steps up to the world.

The large number of teaching applicants and the small number of education dollars make it harder for schools to make these same gracious gestures.

Sometimes, too, the large number of "wanna be's" make us more cavalier in our approach. As one who hires teachers, I think often about the painful, first messages we send. I ache for candidates, especially the young ones at convention "meat markets," who stand in uneasy clusters, name tags on strings around their necks.

I think about our timetables for hiring. The eager public school candidate, graduation long past and bills beginning to mount, must deal with the August hiring patterns of large systems. The newest teachers, who could benefit most from weeks of planning and reading and thinking about the classrooms they will enter, often have a few short days before the children arrive.

The teaching candidate lucky enough to be invited out of state for a school interview must muddle through complicated finances. Will the school pay some of my travel expenses? If I charge it, will I get the check in time to keep things simple? Can my family help out, especially if I decide to take the chance that the national convention in a distant city really might help me find a job?

In his first year on the job, our oldest son earned almost $50,000. The paychecks covered even the first month of intensive training, designed to uncover professional mine fields and to make clear the philosophy of the institution. It was well done. If our youngest son lands a teaching job, his starting pay will be less than a year of tuition at most universities. After a day (sometimes half) of orientation at his school, he will hit the road running.

His bonus won't be financial -- the appreciation, perhaps, of those of us who know how much our grandchildren will need good teachers. That may be enough. Instead of luxurious lodgings and fancy meals, he may know the warmth of hugs from appreciative kids, the poignancy of notes from grateful parents and the unsurpassed pleasure of thanks from returning college sophomores.

For him, though, and for all of us, I wish the entry into the world of education could be filled with the fanfare we feel in our hearts when bright, eager young people decide to make teaching their lives.

L Marlene David is assistant headmistress of Bryn Mawr School.

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