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Connecticut Cities Gain From New Pool Of Young Teachers

Rick Green

January 09, 2009

The upside of this grim recession is we now have thousands of graduates from top colleges rethinking their career choices.

It could transform public education.

Instead of Citibank or law school, it is classrooms in Hartford, New Haven and cities all over the country where they want to be, according to Teach for America, a national organization leading the charge.

Significantly, a qualified graduate can now begin a teaching career in Hartford at about $39,000, without all those "education" courses and endless certification requirements the bureaucrats say are necessary to create a good teacher.

We need teachers who are inspired, committed and grounded in quality education not functionaries in search of a safe job who know how to check off boxes and assemble credits from the local school of education.

At Bulkeley High School in Hartford, Emily Scheines, Cornell '07, is teaching history.

"When you come out of a school like Cornell, there is a certain idea that you shouldn't go and do something as normal as being a teacher, especially in pay grade and status," said Scheines. "Teach for America attracts people who were history majors, psychology majors and investment banking majors."

Last year there were about 24,000 applicants nationwide for Teach for America, which places teachers for two years in cooperating districts. This year the number is expected to be around 40,000. One in five are selected.

"There is a whole pool of untapped talent out there," said Elissa Clapp, vice president of recruiting for Teach for America. "The potential is limitless, but our society has been trained you have to go to law school or you have to go to medical school if you want to make impact."

Critics deride Teach for America as a Peace Corps-like diversion for rich kids. That's hardly the case.

"There is a lot of data that suggests that our corps members are effective coming straight out of the gate," Clapp told me. "Sixty percent do stay in education, a fraction of that same group of people coming in would have said, 'Oh yeah I'm going into education.'"

"It is a life-changing experience," Clapp said. "It is an increasingly important talent pool for public education."

By the fall of 2009, there will be about 7,000 Teach for America recruits in schools across the country. Many become certified during their two-year commitment. Hartford has 70, with plans to grow to 100.

One of Hartford's top school administrators is a veteran, as is Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C., schools.

Kelvin Roldan, who oversees Teach for America for Hartford, said the program is bringing in teachers who finished in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes.

"This is a huge portion of our recruiting strategy," said Roldan, who is also a state representative. He said one in five new teachers in Hartford could soon be from the program.

How fast Teach for America grows will depend on the support it gets. The Hartford Foundation and the Hartford Financial Services Group have supported the effort in Connecticut. It could use more support.

Teach for America is also persuading young college graduates to stay in Connecticut the same population that has been fleeing the state in record numbers.

"What we are going to see is a pretty big chunk of our alumni choosing to work in Connecticut," state director Edna Novak, a Yale grad, said. "We are going to see hundreds of Teach for America alumni continue to teach, becoming assistant principals, principals and district leaders."

At Bulkeley, I stopped by Robert Greene's classroom. He told me that Teach for America is also an opportunity for older folks looking to commit to teaching. The 42-year-old Navy vet is a single parent and former assistant manager at Sears. Now he's bringing his life experience to the classroom.

"It's given me the tools," said Greene. "It's been really important to me to give back to the community."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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