Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reaching out to undergradutes

The other day I did something very uncharacteristic of myself. I emailed perfect strangers- college professors at my Alma mater, and asked to meet. I'm not sure what possessed me to do it- perhaps the shock of finding out that my school that had an education program in a plastic file box when I arrived now was staffed with not one, but two on-campus professors. What are they teaching now? I wondered. What is their program like? What are they up against?

I went to a small, liberal arts college that was decidedly NOT a teacher college. Just in case the plastic file box that was handed around from dean to dean wasn't enough to send the message, the college would nicely transfer our credits from another university half an hour away if we wanted to pursue the crazy idea of becoming a teacher, but it would not offer on-campus classes.

During my four years there the plastic file box slowly merged into a slightly larger profession with one professor, one class offered on campus, and the ability to student teach in our college town. There were three of us who participated in this my senior year. Education wasn't a major, and many of my friends had actual majors who wouldn't let them re-arrange their senior schedule so they could student teach. I was lucky- the religion department allowed me to write my thesis AND student teach at once. (What a winter that was...)

My classmates were horrified that I, or any of us, would want to teach. People assumed we just weren't very intelligent, were wasting our parents' money, or had maneuvered the school into letting us get a "MRS" degree (I went to a very southern college).

So ten years out, what's changed? The college that prides itself on sending so many people to Wall Street, into law schools & med schools has expanded its teacher program. What kind of candidates are they getting? Are those candidates up against the same peer-pressure to find another career that I was?

And more importantly, what can I do to help? I don't quite know what the answer to that is, but I do know that there are very intelligent people at my college- the type of intelligent, thoughtful people that we want in the field. And the more we grow the field with the "I could be a lawyer but instead went into teaching", the more we encourage promising individuals to go into the field (not for just two years, but for a career), the better our profession will be.

Improving the quality of teacher candidates will improve how the field is seen to outsiders. Maybe they'll start trusting us. Maybe we can change the tide.

I'm not sure what inspired me to ask for the meeting, or necessarily what I'll say when I'm there. But I'm excited to know that teaching is becoming more popular on my college campus, and I want to be a part of supporting those new teachers to enter the field.

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