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How the World Recruits Teachers

One of the major topics of discussion at the UNESCO World Teachers' Day summit on Oct. will be elevating the status of the teaching profession.

I've lost count of how many times I've heard in that U.S. teachers need a major public relations campaign. People keep saying it because it's true. A critical mass of the general public doesn't grasp the importance and the complexity of teaching, and that deficit of understanding limits the will for many elected leaders to push for the comprehensive reforms necessary for teachers to earn more respect, more pay, and more ownership over their work.

Not that this sort of thing hasn't been tried. In anticipation of World Teachers' Day, here's a brief tour of media campaigns from around the world aimed at recruiting teachers and boosting the profession.

From Singapore, we've got a three-minute short film with solid production value. In a blaze of sentimentality and plaintive mood music, we discover one caring teacher's long-term impact on a troubled student who is all grown up. Guard your heartstrings, because in this video, Singapore's Ministry of Education is going to reach in and pull them.



From the Government of South Australia, Department for Education and Child Development, here's a quick TV commercial that tries to cover a lot of ground in 32 seconds. The better part, though is the "Teaching is Inspiring" website that accompanies this campaign. It features a bunch of 90-second talking heads videos of teachers from South Australia discussing their work in candid and, yes, inspiring ways.

In the United Kingdom, a public "Get Into Teaching" campaign offers a busy, resource-packed website. Here's a 30-second commercial appealing to ambitious professionals. The "Get Into Teaching" YouTube channel has a bunch of worthwhile material—though the most popular video has only about 3,000 views.

Stateside, a campaign seems to be in the offing for Teach.org, which is currently under construction. A recent U.S. Department of Education blog explained: "TEACH began as part of the Department of Education's to recruit the next generation of teachers to join those already in the classroom. Now, the Department is working on the project with Microsoft as part of a public-private partnership."

Though not part of any coordinated campaign, the most widely viewed pro-teacher propaganda that I could find is performance poet Taylor Mali's forceful What Teachers Make. I love this three-minute tour de force; Mali's intensity is a breath of fresh air for me from the treacly tone of many teacher videos. For Mali, teachers are confident experts in their craft who do crucial work. With every line, he hits it on the nail. With 4 million views, this video may have a crossover impact into the realm of Joe Public, though that view count is still only a tiny fraction of the audience that consumes every commercial during NFL football.

The most successful campaign that I know of is the Recruiting New Teachers, Inc. effort from 1988 into the early 1990s that made 1-800-45-TEACH a nationally recognized phone number. Over a million calls came in to the info line, which was advertised repeatedly nationwide. Here's a link to one grainy spot featuring Edward James Olmos in clips from the movie Stand and Deliver. And here is a poster from the campaign, archived at the Computer History Museum.

I'm all for bringing back Recruiting New Teachers idea—with a 21st century makeover. What would you put in a TV commercial about teaching to grab the masses' attention?

—Dan Brown
@danbrownteacher.

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