An Alternate Route to Alternate Route

April 13, 2009

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


If there is a silver thread in this dark economic cloud, it is the potential to raise the number and the quality of teachers working in high need disciplines such as math and science, in high need districts such as Newark and Camden.

One has to imagine that there are some of the “downsized” engineers and scientists who worked in New Jersey’s high tech businesses who would make fine teachers if properly trained and mentored. One can also imagine a new group of young people currently seriously considering teaching as opposed to, let’s say, banking, as a career choice. In both scenarios, I think motives are relevant, and that in addition to shifting economic realities, I sense a shift in values. A life defined by service, contribution, and meaning, as well as having a career that is relatively secure, makes teaching very attractive.

What if it were possible to develop an instrument that could help people decide if they have potential as a teacher? Then this group could have their skills assessed and each would be given an individual education plan tailored to their specific needs. Some might need training for classroom management while others might need more content-based instruction. Once clear performance standards are developed, each potential teacher could become certified based upon their performance as measured against the standards (this would include an observation of them teaching a class). Certification would be granted based on performance, not accumulated hours in a program. Teachers would then be placed in setting with highly-trained mentors and regular sessions would be held with other new placements so that they can learn from and support each other during those critical first couple of years.

It does seem expensive, doesn’t it? It probably is, but I don’t think screening, training, placing, and supporting new teachers properly is any more expensive than remediating underperforming teachers, or worse, going through the legal process of removing them from the classroom if they are not effective.

What do you think?

photo: Steve Woods