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Campaign Seeks to Recruit Top Students to Become Teachers

The New York Times              November 26, 2013


If you can't do, teach. The three best things about teaching? June, July and August.

With so much teacher bashing, who in the world would want to teach?

Seeking to combat such sentiments, the Department of Education - in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation's two largest teachers' unions and several other educational groups - is unveiling a public service campaign this week aimed at recruiting a new generation of classroom educators.

According to the Department of Education, as many as one million teachers could retire in the next four to six years. Hoping to attract young, high-achieving college graduates - particularly in science, math and engineering - the campaign, called Teach, uses video spots and radio announcements that portray teaching as creative, invigorating and meaningful, and as compelling a career as medicine, acting or engineering.

Under the slogan "Make More. Teach," the video spots, which are being sent to television stations around the country, feature actors enacting scenes in classrooms and beyond. In one, a teacher stands in a swamp waist deep in waders as students look on from the shore tapping iPad screens and chasing frogs. In another scene, a teacher uses papier-mâché planets and surround-screen projection images of the solar system to enliven a science lesson.

Taylor Mali, a poet and a former teacher, provides the inspirational voice-over that evokes some military recruitment ads. "Teachers today are breaking down obstacles," he says, "finding innovative ways to instill old lessons, proving that greatness can be found in everyday places."

The retirement of baby boomers creates an "amazing chance to make a difference for decades to come," said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, in a telephone interview.

In addition to recruiting more candidates with science and math backgrounds, Mr. Duncan said, the nation's public schools need to attract more Hispanics and blacks, particularly men, to teaching. Citing the model of several countries where students regularly score high on standardized tests, Mr. Duncan said that they pull their teaching corps from the top tenth to top third of college graduates. He said he wanted to persuade "very, very high caliber college graduates to come and work in our nation's schools."

Microsoft, along with State Farm, is financially supporting the campaign with an undisclosed amount. Some of the funding will be used to hire recruiters to visit college campuses and talk to juniors and seniors about a career in education.

"The challenge is to change the conversation around teaching so that it becomes the career that you want your child to go into," said Kathy Payne, senior director of education leadership at State Farm, "rather than the career that you counsel children out of."

The campaign comes at a time when public education is increasingly riven by battles over the use of standardized testing in teacher performance evaluations and the rollout of the Common Core, new benchmarks for what students need to know and be able to do between kindergarten and the end of high school. The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Some critics say that such policies, which have been encouraged by the Department of Education, could make recruiting top candidates to the profession more difficult.

"Obviously teaching is a wonderful profession, but I think it's a little blithe in the way that it presents the profession," said Anthony Cody, a former public-school teacher and current education blogger, of the Teach ads. "It's a very tough job and it's being made tougher every year, and a lot of the other things that the Department of Education is doing are making it really difficult to stay in the profession."


Many teachers have complained that what they see as an overemphasis on testing has stymied teacher creativity. But Cliff Skeete, group creative director at McGarryBowen, an advertising agency that donated its time to develop the video and radio ads, said testing and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

"If you find different ways to communicate with and teach kids, where it's not just that same old thing, using a video game or projecting the solar system in the classroom," Mr. Skeete said, "that's what's going to get those test scores raised."

With Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years, as one of the featured partners in the recruiting coalition, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, emphasized the importance of a career-long commitment.

"We don't need people who are looking to be there for two years and move on," Mr. Van Roekel said. "There is no other profession anywhere where they try to build the profession up by having a high turnover rate."

Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-chief executive of Teach for America, said that although the group required only a two-year commitment, more than a quarter of its 32,000 alumni had remained teaching in a classroom.

"Our mission is saying that teaching is one of the most important things and entering education is one of the most important things that young people can do," she said.

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