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Schools in the market for grads

By Negar Tehrani

May 18, 2010 9:00 pm

It’s graduation season: a time when departing students reminisce about their years of undie running, exam cramming and days of waking up not remembering what happened the night before. And, oh yes, they ponder the question of finding a job after graduation. But in this economy, perhaps it’s a more difficult question to answer than before.

For those going to grad school, this summer will be the chance for freedom before another three to four years of grueling coursework. For those not going to grad school, this summer will be spent counting the interest pending on school loans and worrying about finding a job. But perhaps the solution lies in a return to the classroom ““ this time, to the front of the classroom.

According to reports from the “Today Show”, the number of teacher layoffs is continually increasing. As of April, California alone lost 22,000 teachers. Moreover, the number of new teachers earning credentials has decreased by a cumulative total of 22 percent for the fifth straight year, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Further estimates predict a loss of 300,000 teaching jobs nationwide by the end of the school year.

What all this amounts to ““ other than the need for a new program called “No Teacher Left Behind” ““ is the imminent possibility of larger classes, more high school dropouts and fewer college-bound students who will be lucky enough to experience what we have now.

Therefore, though the job market looks grim, it looks like a spot just opened up ““ about 300,000 that is. College grads looking for jobs can join programs such as Teach for America or the Peace Corps, earning them training that can be used as a competitive qualification. Should they later decide to attend grad school or pursue a career, they will already have strong work experience. It may even inspire them to become teachers who will make a positive change in the educational system.

In suit, state officials should provide incentives, such as decreases in loan interests, for recent graduates to pursue and earn teaching degrees. Recruiting newly-graduated students to the teaching force would be a great benefit for graduates looking to be productive as well as for underprivileged schools across the country. Not only would this recruitment create more teaching positions, but it also provides a new teaching group that has a better understanding of younger students with whom it shares a smaller generational gap.

College graduates would not need to attend special graduate schools full-time in order to teach. Although additional coursework is necessary to become a fully accredited teacher, programs such as TFA offer five-week summer training courses that prepare new graduates to teach. After training, a two-year program as teachers inside a classroom provides further experience needed to complete a teaching education.

Though a five-week program may not seem to be sufficient preparation to teach compared to the more traditional accreditation process, the hands-on experience gained at an early age through the two-year program would still function as part of the learning process. Moreover, it’s not that TFA recruits would be permanently replacing those teachers who have more experience. Their availability helps make up for the lack of teachers due to cuts nationwide. And while the two-year commitment may appear as though the recruits “abandon” the younger students once their time is up, many recruits become so dedicated to the goals of the program that they decide to continue in the teaching field.

In fact, programs such as TFA have become so popular and effective that 11 percent of all Ivy League seniors apply to join. According to a Los Angeles Times column, it was the top employer at campuses including the University of Chicago and Georgetown.

In other words, TFA and the Peace Corps are competing with graduate schools that make a business from offering teaching degrees. Yes, competing, as in “compete: (verb) strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others trying to do the same.”

This isn’t to disparage the qualities and benefits of taking graduate courses to earn teaching credentials. There may even be a greater benefit to combining the graduate courses with an external program, where students would learn teaching skills inside the classroom then apply them as teachers in a two-year program such as TFA.

But with acceptance rates as low as 11.7 percent (roughly 4,100 acceptances out of the 35,178 individuals who applied to the program), it’s clear that TFA is a highly competitive program. It is developing a reputation as a labor and teaching force that has already begun to make a difference in the educational system.

In an economy where it’s often hard to see the silver lining (mostly because people are looking for something green), the productivity and effectiveness that has culminated in a program such as TFA can provide a practical and resourceful solution to the problem of teacher and job shortages. Schools would enjoy the benefit of receiving recent graduates from top universities including UCLA, while graduates would gain personal experience and make accomplishments that they can be sure will make a difference. Maybe finding a job after graduation isn’t such a dilemma after all.

If you’re planning to crash in your parents’ basement for the next year or so, e-mail Tehrani at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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