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Recruiting Stars to Teaching

Faced with the retirement of about one million teachers in the next four to six years, the Department of Education is rolling out a public service campaign to recruit the best and the brightest college graduates to teaching ("Campaign Seeks to Recruit Top Students to Become Teachers," The New York Times, Nov. 21).  Through the use of video and radio spots, the campaign, which is called Teach, depicts teaching as an exciting and rewarding career.

I hope the campaign is successful, but I doubt it will achieve its dual goals of recruitment and retention. It's far easier to get idealistic young people with talent to become teachers than it is to keep them in the classroom for more than a few years.  I base my view on the evidence to date.  We know that almost half of new teachers quit within the first five years.  That has been the case for decades.  What makes the picture bleaker is that teaching today is harder than it has ever been.

Constant pressure to boost test scores without adequate support undermines the morale of even the best teachers.  It has little to do with their grades in college or their innate intelligence.  It's the result of the frustration and anger that slowly builds.  I've written before about "compassion fatigue" because I believe it is given short shrift in understanding why teachers experience burnout ("Unappreciated Factor in Teacher Turnover," Reality Check, Jan. 6, 2012).  Teachers care about their students and want to do their job.  But they are stymied by factors beyond their control.

Until we recognize teaching as a profession every bit as vital and demanding as medicine and law, and show that we mean it, the most creative advertising campaign will fall short of its stated objectives. Readers who think I'm cynical need to consider John Owens's experience ("A Conversation With a 'Bad' Teacher," Teacher, Nov. 19).  After spending three decades in magazine publishing, he responded to an ad in the subway: "Become a teacher and be remembered." His career lasted less than a year after it began. I don't think he is an aberration.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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