Mildred Hudson, PhD. I’m the CEO of Recruiting New Teachers, Inc. in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Well, it’s—teacher recruitment has been an important issue for a long time. Uh, we have been warning this country for more then two decades about the coming teacher shortage and it’s here now. Uh we know—we knew, for example, as early as the 80s that uh there would be a real teacher shortage, uh particularly as it involved African-American teachers. Let me just give you exam—an example of that. We knew um as early as 1981-82 that you could even at that time go through 12 years um of education and never meet an African-American teacher. Now something was wrong with that and we began to warn the country early on that this was a problem, that most African-American teachers were my age, that we were all nearing retirement. That, uh in fact, uh the statistics—uh the data was showing that in fact uh it was highly unlikely. That we—we were a dying breed in other words. Um interestingly the person who first brought this to our attention was a woman at Norfolk State University by the uh name of Elaine Witty. And Elaine Witty is now—is the sister of the current uh US Secretary of Education. And we thought this was going to be pretty awful for America uh and for—uh particular for students of color. Um, we knew that students of color somehow or another needed uh these teachers in the classrooms as advocates, as role models, as teacher leaders, as cultural translators, and uh we weren’t getting the job done. Um combine this large number of uh African-American and other teachers who were retiring and uh combine that with the idea that women, you know, who dom—who are dominant in this field were also moving into other professions. Uh, this is a first generation educated profession, if you will. So um it was highly unlikely that those students uh of color and—and other students would go into this profession if they were second generation—uh from second-generation educated families. Now we also knew that—and early on the data was showing this, that you had few African-American teachers, you had uh women with uh different choices now that they could make, they could be lawyers, doctors, etc., um and you combine that with uh, uh certain characteristics of the school community, low pay, um an enormously high cost for education with very little uh payoff. You know, uh very few low and forgiveness programs, for example, for this population. Uh, let me just give you an example. You could go into a business community and get a $50,000 scholarship but that doesn’t—didn’t sort of exist for—for teachers. So combine all of these elements and what do you have? You have a looming disaster in this country. And it’s here. Uh, we predicted, uh we had been warning the country for a long time. Uh my organization, Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., for example, um but had—had been running ads uh on—on TV about teacher recruitment and training and professional development and building esteem for the profession uh for the past 12, 13 years. The country did listen; let me say, but kind of late. Kind of late. And now this problem is full-blown. Um, we didn’t do certain basic things that we could have done. Here’s the example. We know that within the first 3 to 5 years of uh going into the profession that up to 50 percent of the teachers would leave. Well, we didn’t have the programs in place and the professional development in place to keep those teachers. We also knew that uh one might take the money—the scholarship support services etc. that the country was providing and target that to specific populations that might stay in the classroom. We sort of didn’t do it and these are the results that we’re seeing, you know, that you have uh recruiters around the country just saying, “Give them a warm body.” Disgraceful. We should have solved this a long time ago. And so it was poor planning on our part. It was poor listening on the part of the policy makers. Um, it just took too much time. And by the way, uh this is not just, let me say, a problem in America. Uh, this is a national and international problem. You have uh, for example, the same problem in Australia, uh in England, um in other parts of the world because we are an aging population and the children of the baby boomers now are uh desperately needing teachers.
Well (interruption) Yeah, yeah. Teacher recruitment is a major problem uh in this country, particularly in urban and uh rural communities, or high poverty communities mainly uh because we have not been fair to these communities uh in a number of ways. We’ve used them as training grounds for uh—for teachers. Uh we hire—sometimes up to 60 percent of all the teachers who are hired in low-income communities are not certified, not fully qualified for their positions. We do not put them—even if they have a—a uh—they’ve majored let’s say in a—a particular area, we often do not uh place them in the classrooms where they are the most qualified. Once they are uh qualified—once they become fully certified teachers, whatever that means in each state, uh they often then get—they leave urban communities and go into higher paying—uh, what is perceived of as better school districts. So this is a major problem in this—in this uh country. We hire teachers, we use uh in—for urban schools. We use this—these as training grounds for those teachers uh and we then do not give them the incentives or the professional development that they need in order to stay in—in the classroom.
What do new teachers need? I would say more than anything, support systems. They need mentors, they need buddies, they need um more senior people to show them the way. They need enthusiastic, highly qualified teachers that they can then uh be more like them. They need optimism. They need um cohort grouping so that they can learn in friendly environments and they need really good training in their fields. Uh, one of the—the statistics I saw recently said that um something like um, uh 50 percent of all of the students in community—potential—folks who are—who would like to become teachers take their only math course in community college. Well, you can’t do that and then be expected to uh work in elementary—teach math in elementary school. Uh, if I had anything to—if I wanted to say the most important thing that these new teachers need, I would say good mentoring programs, long-term professional development, um support systems that would uh encourage them to—to stay in the classroom, and um, uh lots of skills—lots of skills about how to work with uh people from different cultural backgrounds. Uh, how to um work with parents, how to uh encourage and support children. Sometimes the—the best intentions are not just enough. Sometimes you need more then that. But uh they need all of these things because we need them. We need—we desperately them, actually uh in—in urban and—and—and poor communities.
Well, here’s what we’ve learned about paraprofessionals and when we compare them to let’s say returning Peace Corps volunteer who—we think that they paraprofessionals and return Peace Corps volunteers, as examples, are good people that we should target to—to—for urban school community—uh schools—schools. Uh, why? Because for the paraprofessionals uh they are from the community and if you’re talking about growing your own and providing services, sometimes these are uh, uh teacher—teacher aides who have been in the classroom 15-20 years. They know a lot about classroom management. Uh, sometimes we’ve found that paraprofessionals often have taken as many as 100 credits in the—in uh—in college, but credits that go nowhere, that do not lead to a degree. So we think this is a great population for the country to tap into for urban and rural school districts. Uh, what do they need? They need uh what all teachers need. Uh, we found that they need good uh training in terms of theory. They’ll tell you that. I’m doing—I’m doing something and I don’t know the reason why. So uh they—what they do very well, which is manage classrooms, love children, be our truck cultural translator, etc., um we need to build upon those characteristics and concurrently um support them in areas where they need support. What’s that support? More schooling, um more knowledge, more skill—uh, more skills in particular fields. Now here’s what we’ve learned about paraprofessionals let’s say versus return Peace Corps volunteers—and we think they make a—a very—this is a targeted population among others, by the way. The second career populations might be another group. But return Peace Corps volunteers, for example, have had um experience abroad, lots of language uh—well, some language um facility uh in other countries, um and so they often are just filled with knowledge of theory. What they don’t have is knowledge of classroom management often because they’re young or they’ve had one or two jobs. And so one of the things we educators desperately need to think about is how do you go about looking at different potential populations—teaching populations and help them in areas where they need help. And so it’s not bad if you—if uh the paraprofessional has not been exposed to a lot of theory, we build upon what they already know. It’s not a terrible thing if the return Peace Corps volunteer or the second career population person uh is going into a—into the teaching profession. It’s not bad that they don’t know how to do classroom management. That’s the job of higher education. That’s the job of professors. And uh—and that’s the job of school districts who bring these populations along in terms of professional development. By the way, I—I just want to add one thing about the paraprofessional pool. Now here’s a pool where you have over 500,000 um aides in a classroom—500,000 in the country and um they’re from various backgrounds. They usually uh mirror the uh—the settings where they—they work. Uh, why not give them a chance. Sometimes they only make up to $17,000 after working for 10, 20 years. Well, we’re always saying this is a profession that, you know, the—the starting salary is so low, not for paraprofessionals. For them it’s a raise and yet uh we have sort of bypassed them in terms of—of looking at specific ways of bringing them along, of helping them to get degrees and providing scholarship support for them. The country has tended to favor youth over experience.
Well, for the same—induction programs are important in the teaching profession for the same reason they are important in all professions. Uh, you might be formerly educating, but you don’t know uh the informal, if you will, way of doing things in any—any school system. So induction programs uh help the newly entering teacher to get to know the profession in a practical way on a day-to-day basis. Uh, it introduces and supports that teacher through uh this critical period when they are most likely uh to drop out, to be afraid, to not think that they know what they’re doing. And um—so it’s critical in the same way that one uh would not after uh—a doctor has gone through formal training, would not then allow that doctor to operate on a patient. I mean there is an induction process. It’s the same in the business world. Uh this is no big secret. Uh people need to be introduced to their profession in a practical way. Uh the nice thing also about induction programs is if—if—if they’re in education then, you get—you get the opportunity to be mentored by uh—it’s a good program, uh top-notch teachers. And that’s—we’ve found that that’s crucial. We’ve found that that has a lot to do with whether these mentoring programs, the induction process, etc. uh is important to helping um newly hired teachers whether they are uh new to the profession or new to the school district to—to help them to—to move along uh and to have a smooth kind of transition into the school and the classroom.
Um, it’s—that’s hard. I actually can’t do that. We just did a national study on this and that’s hard, you know, because it’s a—it’s a—it’s kind of a national sweep and what you find is that um—it’s called an induction program but it’s—it could be anywhere from two days to forever or long term. So I don’t know if I can answer that.
Well, we’re finding that mentoring is uh somewhat crucial to uh whether many teachers will stay on the job. Um, uh—we don’t know enough about mentoring, by the way, we—but we know that it’s helpful for—in terms of uh a teacher’s uh—keeping teachers on the job and not having them dropout. Uh, often we think of this mentoring as kind of one way of doing things and uh I’m reminded of one um—one uh study that I saw where you might—you—they found that you needed different kinds of mentors. That the teacher—the new uh teacher might need a mentor uh in terms of skills and a mentor in terms of support. So we don’t know a great deal about that. We’re—we’re still investigating this but uh the whole country now is saying mentoring is a—an answer uh to our prayers in—in various fields. But uh this is to be—still to be—we still need to look at this more closely.
Well, there are some policies that we know are—that are very important uh to recruit and—and retain uh good teachers. Uh, for example, uh higher pay. Um, there is no question that uh higher pay uh supports um a good teaching force or supports a retention in—in—in the school system. We know uh that uh policies that are called “Grow Your Own” policies are important. This is uh that instead of schools reaching out and competing for a very few uh highly qualified teachers, uh what we should be doing is coming up with long-term policies to support the teaching profession um starting in middle and high school, um certainly focusing on community colleges as a—a—a place where one can uh, uh support entering teachers and then all the way through to uh retention, to professional development uh after teachers have become fully qualified. And so here’s what we can do. We can begin to uh open up more uh career academies at middle and high school levels because what we’ve found is that if you don’t do that, most—many students choose their career—careers long before they get to college. And for uh African-American, Latino, and other students, uh we need to open them—have them understand that this is one career choice they might want to consider when they’re in middle school, you know, when we—when we begin to talk about these issues. Um, so one of the things that’s crucial here is that we make sure that we have policies that—to support this. Support these kinds of targeted programs, “Grow Your Own” programs where you then provide monies, support services, scholarships, loan forgiveness, to populations in urban areas. It is not—you cannot solve this country’s problems—teacher recruitment problems and retention problems by various school districts ‘stealing,’ as we say, from each other. Um, sometimes we think that this is good because it’s—it’s competition. But it’s not for us, for the people in high poverty communities, it’s ‘brain drain,’ if you will. And so the solution is not to try to attract the teachers from suburban areas to work in urban areas. That’s not the solution. The solution is to build capacity in high poverty communities. The solution is not to have someone go and work a few years in a poor school uh and then move on somewhere else. And we know how to do this. It’s not as if we don’t know how to do it. We know how to uh take truck drivers, lunchroom attendants, solid community citizens and provide them with the support services to make them top—top-notch teachers. It’s being done over the coun—uh throughout the country. And the other thing we need to do is we need to look at the lessons that have been learned in these communities and build policies, if you will, based on those lessons. Uh, very, very often this discussion of recruitment and retention is so surfaced, is so at—is always at the surface, let’s recruit, let’s edu—sort of going back and forth without looking underneath to see what’s really happening in many of these communities. And the paraprofessionals that would be one great example, that is, we know how to train paraprofessions—professionals. We know that 90 percent of them once they get their degrees or perhaps even higher, will stay in their communities, you know, will work in those schools. We know they—that they do as well as any of the other teachers. Well, that’s a—that’s knowledge that we’ve gained from these communities that we really should use in uh—in—in the policy arena.
Well, let me just say that um the um—I—I was responsible, if you will, for a program um at the Dewitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund called “Pathways to Teaching Careers” and I was a program officer there and it was a $50 million initiative that set about developing models for how to recruit, prepare, and retain teachers. Uh, this program was also accompanied by a 5-year evaluation. And uh we learned a lot from that program. Let me just say that over—there were over 3,000 uh paraprofessional—uh paraprofessionals and others in this study. Um, probably 75, 80 percent were of African-American, Latino, and uh background and uh other people of color. Um, this has been a—this program has had a profound effect on—on uh how we think about working with adult learners, uh with people from different cultural backgrounds. And uh let me just say that uh the US Office of Education and President Clinton um thought so highly of this program they adopted it as one of the models for the country. And uh here’s what we’ve learned. We’ve learned not only about uh how one works to—uh how one works with teachers, but that the—the university itself must change its practices if it wants to um be successful at—at training adult learners. So here’s the example. This is a—a wonderful example, actually. Uh, in one of our programs we had paraprofessionals going to school in the evening. Um and all of these paraprofessionals came from uh nearby elementary schools where they were teaching and so they were all, you know, pile into whatever transportation they had and they would all go and sit in this one professor’s classroom. Well, why couldn’t the professor go to the paraprofessionals? It sort of didn’t make sense if you think about um supporting adult learners, helping them to be successful. And it also didn’t make sense uh from the universities perspective that just something as simple as saving room space, you know. Uh, why can’t the professor go to see what the community looks like and where these teachers—where these paraprofessionals work and what kind of schools they work in and what—what are they doing there? So in the process of working with uh adult learners, you begin to see how can the university meet the needs of these adult learners in a different way? It makes a lot of sense maybe for an 18-year-old to show up at the university campus. It makes little sense uh for some paraprofessionals to have to drop everything and go to some central location outside of their community. Um, so we’ve learned that—we’ve learned that that’s quite helpful. Let’s see if I can think of a—I have these wonderful stories but—oh. The other thing that we sort of learned about um adult learners, the support services and what their needs are is we learned that if you—if you taught them in cohort groups, it was a much more likely that they were going to be successful and successful not just in terms of your studies but in terms of the community, their families, etc. Uh, we found that if you took two or three—you had these adult learners going and taking two or three classes together, some initial classes together, they became friends. They uh helped each other out in the evening with their children. Uh, one was very strong in the math—in math; the other was very strong in language. So they became—you’re—you’re talking about building a friendship circle in the community in the process of educating. Now we sort of do this in law school, for example uh, and uh very often in other professions, but we haven’t thought about it too much as it involves adult learners. Well, we found this as one of the keys to success, that you allow these paras—paraprofessionals and other adult—adult learners to have a certain number of classes together so that they can support each other in a variety of ways. We’ve also found that it’s important for adult learners to uh bring in um families so you’re not just educating, for example, the—the mother, you are also supporting the family structure. And so in—in working with these adult learners, you might want to have uh various potlucks. Uh, you might want to have picnics together. You might want to let the children and uh the uh spouse visit the classroom on an occasion. And what happens there is that the children can understand—very often the first time they’ve ever been on a college campus—uh, but the whole family then can become uh educated and a part of the education process. Educate the mother and the father; you’ve also uh helped the children.
Well, I—I think when we think about teacher shortage and we think about urban schools or low income communities, I think we have to think about growing your own. We absolutely must stop targeting uh populations in a narrow sense to working these schools. We—this country has wasted a lot of talent by not um hiring retired um professional, if we will. By not targeting money in—I have a tickle in my throat so I’m sorry. (cough) Grow your own, open up the pipeline, uh target outside of their—the traditional root to school. That would sort of be the thing that I would encourage the country to do. Look at um and provide ways for people outside of the profession to move into it. Um, if you are a 50-year-old man and you’ve worked on Wall Street all your life, there should be a place for you to work in the classroom (cough) if that’s what you want to do with the rest of your life. If you are an x-Army uh person, um if you have um worked as a lawyer, it would seem to me that there should be a place in the classroom, but you can’t just walk in. You can’t—there’s a certain—and you can’t go and shortchange the system. You can’t go and take two weeks worth of courses and think you know what you’re doing because you really don’t at that point. And so there has to be mechanisms whereby you can take people from other professions and give them bonified, good training, you know, in a—in a different kind of way then the 18-year-old uh to be successful in the school. Because one of the dangers here is that if we don’t do this, what we will have is a kind of rotating in and out, if you will, of potentially good teachers, potentially good teachers who become disappointed or disillusioned because they just didn’t have the accompanying skills to manage classrooms or to work with 17-year-olds or 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds, etc. So you want—you want to provide them with proper training. Um, they should know something about devout children, uh student development. They should know something about how to work in classrooms or how to work with groups or—so it doesn’t say that he person uh who has been a lawyer knows how to work in the classrooms. You’ve got to find proper ways or efficient and effective ways of bringing these adult populations into the schools. So uh what’s my suggestion? I think we need to um revamp um and become creative in terms of—of the training process. I think we need to reach out to a broad group of—of uh potential teachers. And I think we need to make um—let this country know how absolutely difficult and—it is to do a good job in the classroom. Um, just because you sat in a classroom doesn’t mean that you know what’s on the other side. I think we need to stop talking so much about what teachers should do and provide them with the support services, and the funds, and the um long-term—uh their—help them to stay in the classroom long-term. We might want to define a little bit more about what we mean by standards. It doesn’t mean uh, for example, punishing the 4-year-old, flunking the 4-year-old when we call that standards, right? Spanking the teacher. I mean that’s standards, right? Testing in this kind of one-dimensional way and thinking that—that one test sort of fits all. Disgraceful. You can brilliant in all kinds of ways. America can afford this brilliance. It should be able to allow people to show it—allow children, allow teachers to show just how brilliant we are in a variety of ways. Not one test. It doesn’t do it. Wrong, wrong message here because if you think about what this country is about, it’s about creativity, it’s about different ways of doing things, it’s about being inclusive (telephone rings) as it involves various cultures and it’s about adapting—adopting different ideas to move forward with, to be creative with. And so to think about what the country needs and then to have this one kind of testing system that’s punishing, by the way, goes against everything we think about in terms of how you motivate people (laugh). “You—you fail,” you say to a 4th grader that remembers that for the rest of his or her life. Not a good—not a good thing to do. Not a good message to the country. We all deserve 2nd, 3rd, 4th chances.