One key challenge of urban education is the high teacher turnover rate. As I’ve mentioned before, 46 percent of new teachers will leave the profession within five years. Arguably, that number is higher in urban districts where we teachers face larger socio-economic obstacles. Thus, one of the major criticisms of Teach For America’s mere two-year commitment. Many commenters on this and other blogs have argued that it creates a revolving door of teachers which hurts students. But the question remains, what can we do to keep people from leaving the classroom?
A few weeks ago I challenged gubernatorial candidates to propose more state-wide teacher recruitment programs similar to Teach For America. My recommendation was to identify individuals interested in a career in the classroom, partner with local colleges and universities to provide the teacher prep, and pay for it so that graduates aren’t crippled with debt.
Today I want to offer that same challenge to union officials.
Let me preface this by saying I am an advocate for organized labor, collective bargaining rights, and fair work environments. This is not an attack on organized labor. This is a friendly suggestion. Recently, I’ve constructively criticized organized labor, specifically the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, for doing a poor job organizing young teachers. I cannot tell you how many of my TFA and non-TFA colleagues do not realize the benefit of joining the MTEA. If the MTEA produced a teacher corps, they could work to raise the next generation of teachers.
Now, I’m sure the MTEA and other unions offer scholarships to local high school students, but let’s push the envelope. In addition to organizing traditionally trained teachers, the AFT, NEA, and their affiliates should seek out those interested in launching or switching to a teaching career. The recruits could be paired with a mentor, and serve as their mentor’s educational assistant while obtaining their post-baccalaureate certification. After they’ve received their certification, they could be hired into their own classroom, and continue working with a mentor for the next two or three years to implement and perfect their craft.
In a similar fashion to CityYear and TFA, recruits could meet regularly to reflect upon their work and find ways to integrate themselves into the local and professional community. I believe the union is the best conduit to make those connections.
Like all things, this project would be cost prohibitive. But, in a time when we need to be bold, it would be a wise investment for one of the major unions to pilot a program. Many people say TFA corps members are well intentioned individuals working in the wrong model. I challenge someone to step up to the plate, join in the effort to recruit the next generation of teachers, and show the world how it should be done.