How to Make a Teacher
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RAY SUAREZ: School districts across the nation face a similar dilemma: Ever burgeoning classrooms and an urgent need for teachers, trained or untrained. But just how effective is an untrained or partially trained teacher? We get two views. First, Harold Levy, chancellor of the New York City schools. And Arthur Wise, President of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Chancellor Levy, looking back over the last school year to the teachers that we met here on the NewsHour and the other teaching fellows, did the plan work?
HAROLD LEVY: I think the plan worked very well. I think it worked much better than I had the slightest hope that it would. What we did is we brought in 300 people who, while they had very good grades, had not had any teaching experience or any real teaching training. And what we did is we put them through a four-week course and we gave them the basics. And then we tried to give them all mentors. And we put them in the midst of some of the toughest schools. It was… It was learn by fire. It was very difficult. So many of them– so many of them– did wonderfully. What you just saw, I think, is emblematic. I think John Merrow did an excellent job both showing the strengths and the weaknesses. The down side, of course, is we’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t make the same errors and that we improve the program. You know, at the end of the day there’s no substitute for somebody who has gone through real rigorous teacher training, but, you know, with the kind of shortages we have and the kind of people who are out there who are interested in teaching and see it as a calling and see it as something that they can dedicate their lives to, I think we have a real opportunity here to bring in people we wouldn’t otherwise get. And I think that’s for the betterment of public schools.
RAY SUAREZ: You heard the teaching fellows themselves when asked if they had any message for you, they said come see what you do. Do you have your marching orders now for next year.
HAROLD LEVY: The truth is I make lots of unannounced it visits. And I make a point to going to as many schools as I can. I certainly listen to their suggestions. I think my marching orders are to do more. I think my next job is to clone myself and have three or four of me.
RAY SUAREZ: Arthur Wise, given the shortage faced by New York City in this one example, but in many other districts around the country, is this a proper response, to bring lightly trained teachers in to quickly fill a need?
ARTHUR WISE: No, the evidence really suggests that that is not the right course of action. In fact, this approach will likely exacerbate the supply problem, rather than improve it in the long run, and, in fact, it’s likely to increase challenges that New York City and other cities face in recruiting and retaining teachers. But the real reason -
RAY SUAREZ: Why would it do that?
ARTHUR WISE: The real reason that it’s an unfortunate program is you need to think about the children first. Children in low performing schools need the very best that we have to offer, and to offer them year after year untested, untried trainees is, I think, clearly a disservice to them and helps to explain, in fact, why they are low performing schools.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Chancellor, how about that, the idea that these newest teachers went to some of the most burdensome schools, the schools that have tremendous needs?
HOWARD LEVY: I think at base Mr. Wise and I probably agree a lot more than we disagree. If we had enough certified, high quality teachers to put in these schools, I don’t think this would be – to and get career changes would be the first instinct that most of us have. The other side of the coin, though, is there are so many people who view teaching as a calling, and who may not have gotten the training while they were in college and may not have made up their minds that they wanted to become teachers, but, nonetheless, want to perhaps, you know, give up the rat race of getting and spending, and rather do something that’s going to have an effect in the long haul. I don’t think he’s right – with all due respect. I don’t think Dr. Wise is right that we’re going to be hurting ourselves in long run because the alternatives in so many of our schools is that we have completely uncertified people who have no training at all. What we’re going to be doing this year is giving them seven weeks of training, 60 hours of student teaching. And, in fact, in two years they’re going to go through a very rigorous mentoring program winding up with a masters degree. What I’ve got in so many of my classrooms today, we have 80,000 teachers and 12,000 of those have no teaching degree at all and they are not going through this kind of training. I mean, we talk a big game in this country about having a national commitment to teaching and to education. And the reality is we don’t. There is no national commitment because otherwise teaching would be paid properly and the teachers would have the respect that the society reserves for the much higher paid professions. I mean, I’m a former lawyer. In New York City in 1970, a starting lawyer and a starting teacher were paid about $2,000 differently. Today a starting lawyer in one of the top firms in the city and a starting teacher in the New York City School system get paid about $120,000 difference. Now what surprise that we’re having trouble getting people to become teachers. You’ve got to do this for love, for compassion, for altruism. Then you saw what happens to these teachers. They become realists and they get to know their trade. It’s not a one-year exercise. And my bet is we can do retention. But, you know, Dr. Wise is right, at the end of the day what you really want is people who go through this who make this… make this decision early on. But in the meantime career changers I think are right.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s behind your contention that this will only make the problem worse, programs of this kind?
ARTHUR WISE: Well, first of all, the retention rate of individuals trained this way is not great. The "Teach for America" program, which has been the long-established version of the New York’s teaching fellow program, about 6,000 people have entered that program. Today a mere 2,000 or so are still in the schools. This is not a way to staff our schools. It is a way to make due. What we really need to do, agreeing with the Chancellor, we must make teaching a more attractive profession and, in fact, New York City pays less than its surrounding suburbs and some of the most challenging schools in New York City are very difficult places in which to work, requiring an individual not only to have commitment and zeal but also to make quite a considerable financial sacrifice. We would not have a shortage of teachers today if we paid market-sensitive salaries. This is the way we solve labor shortage problems in other areas of our economy. It is certainly one in which… which deserves a try in trying to recruit and retain teachers for our schools. But money alone is not the answer. I think we need to have high quality preparation, high quality induction, high quality mentoring.
HOWARD LEVY: I just want to say that I agree with that. I think that we need to have those high quality programs. This is not Teach for America. This is a program where you make a two-year commitment because otherwise at the end of it you don’t get your masters degree. These are people who want to get masters in education. We now have arrangements with Long Island University and City University — 13 institutions, St. John’s, Pace, Columbia. This is an opportunity for people to come in and become teachers. And the fact that they’ve had experience in the rest of the worlds, and other careers, I’m not sure should be considered a detriment, the other side of that coin is that we do have to pay our teachers a real wage. And we’re not doing it. I mean, I don’t know who thought that the laws of supply and demand were repealed when it came to public school teachers but whoever it was they were wrong.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Arthur Wise, in the short term are we really going to have the kind of national conversation about education that would result in really drastic raises in teacher salaries?
ARTHUR WISE: My hope would be that there would be because the research is very clear: Teachers who are prepared in accredited institutions outperform those who are not prepared; teachers who are fully licensed by the state outperform teachers who are not. Children learn, the test score results that we heard reported earlier in this program, are abysmal. We cannot regard this program as having been that successful when such a high fraction of the children fail. And I want to stress that this is an experience that these children will have perhaps year after year being taught by somebody who is under qualified or unqualified or, at best, a committed trainee. I think we need to take a leaf from the… from medicine where we have provided much higher quality internship experiences for beginning physicians, beginning nurses. I think we should create professional development schools in our urban areas, strong collaborations between universities and the schools to prepare a generation of teachers who will be effective and who will stay the course.
RAY SUAREZ: Some quick final thoughts, Chancellor Levy, briefly.
HOWARD LEVY: The only thing I would say to that is these are not simply trainees. This is not just simply people being dropped in. What you saw is people who are being trained. And they’re going to go back and get more training. These are people who are going to come out with a Masters in Education. My bet is that they are going to turn out to be… We’re going to have high retention rates and we’re going to have good success with them. But I agree with Dr. Wise: When this country has a real national commitment to teaching, then we’re going to see the wages of these people go up because that’s what they deserve.
RAY SUAREZ: Harold Levy, Arthur Wise, gentlemen, thank you both.