Second-career teachers reinforce faculty ranks

The Education Beat

Classrooms: The nation needs millions of teachers, and many will come from other fields, not through traditional education schools.

March 10, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Arthur Moore visited the White House Tuesday, hobnobbed with a select group of educators and politicians, delivered a talk in the East Room and dined on salmon with his hostess, first lady Laura Bush.

The next day, Moore was back at work as a teacher of special education in two Baltimore elementary schools where salmon isn't often on the menu, Abbottston and Furley, both in Northeast Baltimore.

Moore was thrilled with the invitation, but truth to tell, he'd talked at the White House before. A photo of a smiling Moore flanked by Bill and Hillary Clinton is posted at Furley, soon to be joined by a shot of Arthur, George and Laura.

Why so popular? Moore, 47, is the exemplar of a career-changer. Eight years ago, he took an alternative path to teaching after a 21-year career in the Army.

For Moore, a modest man who grew up in poverty in southern West Virginia and joined the Army because he couldn't afford anything else, there was no traditional teacher college, followed by student teaching and certification after state officials counted his college credits.

Moore was stationed in Colorado, and he'd always wanted to be a teacher. He spotted a recruiting flier for an alternative program in Baltimore called the Resident Teacher Program. The program puts career-changers in the classroom almost immediately if they have college degrees - Moore earned his in the military, with a B average.

Once they're teaching, these new teachers earn additional college credits in education, going to school nights and weekends. After two years of this, they're certified - that is, licensed to teach in Maryland.

In Moore's case, a national program called Troops to Teachers was of further help, moving him, his wife and two daughters to Baltimore, where they've been happy campers since.

Moore told the distinguished White House gathering that he's been able to serve his country twice. The reward of the second career, he said, "is seeing the light go off in the minds of our students."

He told me later - White House security wouldn't let reporters mix with the guests - that seeing inner-city kids progressing in school persuaded him to stay in teaching. "I saw some successes, and I thought if I can do this, why not go into special education?"

Moore earned a master's from Coppin State College, whose dean of education, Julius Chapman, also was a guest at the White House.

Look for many more career-changers like Moore and for many more programs to accommodate them, no matter what educators at traditional teacher colleges think.

America needs 2 million teachers over the next decade, and there's no way states such as Maryland are going to fill classrooms with teachers trained the traditional lockstep way. As it is, Maryland is a net importer of teachers; that is, more of its new teachers are trained outside the state than in Maryland's colleges.

Moreover, as the Abell Foundation reported recently, there's no evidence that teachers who take required courses for licensing perform better in the classroom than those who don't. This dirty little truth plunges a dagger into the heart of traditional teacher education.

Laura Bush, in her opening remarks Tuesday, noted another reason for a surge in career-changing. After Sept. 11, she said, "wherever I go, people tell me they are reassessing their lives. ... Teaching is the greatest community service of all, as many professionals are finding out through alternative certification like the New Teacher Project and Teach for America."

Teach for America is the largest alternative program in Baltimore. Nationally, the program, which places recent college graduates in urban and rural classrooms, expected 6,000 applicants for the class that will enter teaching this fall. It got 12,000.

It's not that these new teachers are dropped into the pool and required to swim, said Ralph Fessler, dean of the Johns Hopkins University graduate school of education, where most of Baltimore's Teach for America teachers are earning master's degrees while teaching.

"There is a body of knowledge that these folks need. They need a constant diet of theory and practice."

Eight years ago, Moore was in the Resident Teacher Program's second class in Baltimore. Unfortunately, a familiar combination of politics and ineptitude let the program decline in recent years. Last year's class numbered only 22.

But the program is back under a new name, the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, with a new and highly regarded director, Roger Schulman, a new national affiliation, the New Teacher Project, and ambitious plans for recruitment.

"We're hoping to take advantage of an atmosphere that lends itself to public service," said Schulman. "We're hoping to recruit between 75 and 100 career-changers this year." The deadline for applications is March 22.

The impediment to all of this is the pitiful state of teachers' salaries. Teach for America corps members earn the starting salaries of most districts, typically about $30,000. Depending on their backgrounds, teachers in the Baltimore City Teaching Residency program will earn $33,300 to $39,022. For many who would leave lucrative jobs to teach in Baltimore, that's a load of commitment.

Of Moore's 11 fellow speakers at the White House Tuesday, only one stressed the need to improve the financial lot of teachers. Not surprisingly, it was Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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