Rediscovering the Value of Teaching

By Branch, Eleanor | Black Enterprise, February 1992 | Go to article overview

Rediscovering the Value of Teaching


Branch, Eleanor, Black Enterprise


Like most teachers, Juanita Parrish, 41, can recall plenty of experiences that reflect both the rewards and the frustrations of her teaching career. The teacher at the racially mixed Oakland Elementary School in suburban Denver, remembers one case in particular, which confirms both the stressful difficulties of the profession and the sense of professional fulfillment that keeps her committed. "There was this young man who came into my classroom after having been in another teacher's class and then in another school district," she recalls. "He came to me rebellious, rude--just plain obnoxious. But I took the time with him, and finally I asked him why he was so rebellious."

"He told me he felt it was because nobody liked him," she continues. "But I told him I did and that I wanted to help. He was a big challenge for me. He needed to know someone cared, he needed to feel their sincerity."

At a time when quality education has become paramount to American competitiveness--and to the economic advancement of African-Americans--demand for more and better teachers is increasing. No profession--not even the hallowed vocations of law and medicine--is as crucial to the economic stability of a society as teaching. After decades of indifference, the nation has finally begun to recognize the terrible economic and social price of neglecting the profession charged with preparing citizens for an increasingly competitive world.

It has also become clear that no reform of the nation's educational system can be effective without a greater presence of African-American teachers, who can meet the challenge of educating our children. Thanks to this new awareness and the changing dynamics it will trigger, teacher recruitment, training and retention (translation for career planners: opportunity, education an compensation) have moved to the front burner of national concern. Now may be the best time for African-Americans to re-examine teaching as a viable career option.

A Tough Lesson To Learn

To date, the industry's ability to meet the burgeoning demand for new teachers--especially when it comes to attracting and retaining minority teachers--has been questionable at best. But as we move toward the year 2000, the outlook for the profession is changing, and teachers and education experts point to several trends that should serve to attract more African-Americans to the teaching profession: * Salaries are increasing--albeit slowly--and changes in teacher salary structures are moving some teachers into higher earning levels more quickly. This is making the profession more competitive with other career options, many of which have lost some of their value in the aftermath of white-collar layoffs spawned by the recent recession. * The industry is offering more upfront incentives to those entering the field. Public and private programs, which will attract students to teaching and help finance their education and training, are on the rise. These programs (many of which are reaching back to high school students for potential recruits) are providing everything from guaranteed undergraduate scholarships to student-loan deferments to advance preparation for postgraduate degrees. * More school systems are developing performance incentives for those who excel in the teaching profession. Teachers who maintain high performances are often targeted for choice teaching assignments, including overseeing the training and development of new teachers. * School reforms, such as school-based management policies, have begun to change the teaching environment, giving teachers more input into how education is administered, and more of an opportunity to control their professional environment. In many schools, such reforms mitigate the professional futility that drives many teachers from the profession.

The U.S. Department of Education has launched America 2000, an ambitious campaign launched by the Bush administration aimed at tapping corporate resources (in the form of the New American Schools Development Corp. …

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