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Has Teaching Become Paid Volunteer Work?

In Time magazine's most recent annual National Service Issue, which came out this week, John Cloud's article, "How to Recruit Better Teachers," questions whether the teaching profession has become "paid volunteer work," luring many recent elite university graduates or middle-aged professionals dissatisfied with their current careers to perform national public service rather than commit to teaching as a profession.

Programs like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, among others, have provided many people the means to teach without going through a traditional teacher certification training process or education school, Cloud reports.

"Because it has been so difficult for poorly funded schools to find and keep teachers, TFA and similar organizations are quietly becoming part of the Establishment," he writes.

A substantial amount of non-federal funding is also now available to low-performing schools who attach themselves to such programs, exemplified by Memphis, Tenn., public schools' partnership with TNTP.

Many of these TFA and TNTP programs place young teachers in "rough" schools, but only for several years before they move on to another career path, which could serve to reinforce existing stereotypes of the profession, the article says. In addition, making temporary teaching positions could further decline teacher retention rates in some of the nation's worst public schools, while only offering a Band-Aid to the nation's need both to fill teacher vacancies and improve the general caliber of teachers nationally, it adds.

However, the article also cites studies that have shown little difference between traditionally trained teachers and TFA program-type teachers in terms of their success in the classroom and in improving student achievement scores.

Do the country's education needs in the 21st century call for new recruitment or placing methods for teachers? Should we reform traditional terminal degree education programs to meet the needs of today's learners or create more organizations like TFA to fill the desperate need for teachers? Is there a danger in hiring teachers who want to provide public service to our schools but do not want to stick with teaching long term?

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