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Encouraging tomorrow's teachers. Trinity University scholarship program seeks to attract `best and brightest' students to ranks of a beleaguered profession

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 5, 1985

San Antonio

Victor Herrera, a freshman at Trinity University, recalls how his teachers used to discourage him when he spoke of the profession he hoped to enter: teaching. ``They used to tell me I was too smart, that I could be an engineer or a lawyer, so why would I want to teach?''

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Too many students like Victor have been discouraged from entering teaching, educators say; too few of the nation's most talented college students are entering the teaching profession. A demonstration program at this small liberal arts college aims to help meet this problem by providing, in effect, a $26,000 grant to talented students who will commit themselves to a teaching career for two years after college.

Victor also had a coach in middle school ``who changed my life, made me feel good about myself. I thought then that I'd like to change people's lives, too.'' Later, in high school, he had an English teacher, ``a great teacher who knew how to capture your attention. You couldn't help but learn from her.''

Those teachers made Victor feel ``that teaching would be right for me,'' he says.

At Trinity, Victor is one of 17 bright, talented San Antonio-area students who have decided that teaching is right for them. And in exchange for a commitment to learn about education, and then to go out and teach, each will receive a four-year scholarship plus a $2,000 stipend for each of the first two years of teaching.

The program, funded with $450,000 from the Brackenridge Foundation, is seen as a demonstration project for studying three basic elements in forming a solid teaching profession: recruitment of top students, their preparation as teachers, and finally, their retention in education.

University officials say that, although the program was envisioned as a one-time experiment, they are working on finding the funds to keep it going -- and to help other schools to adapt it.

For reasons ranging from pay and support in the community to the job's perceived lack of professionalism, today's ``best and brightest'' rarely consider a teaching career.

``Our ability to attract and retain quality people in public education is a great cause for concern,'' says Ronald Calgaard, Trinity's president. The ``fixed pool'' of enthusiastic, well-educated, and mostly female college students who saw teaching as one of their best professional options ``has all but dried up,'' he says.

And the severity of the problem takes on a new urgency, adds Dr. Calgaard, when seen in the light of an expected teacher shortage.

``Up to four or five years ago, we considered that we had a surplus of teachers,'' Calgaard says. But today, a severe shortage looms on the horizon. The nation's schools will require about 1 million new teachers by 1990, according to the National Education Association. They say, however, that supply will meet only about 70 percent of that demand. The supply shortage is particularly vexing because it comes at a time that the nation's public schools are under fire to improve the quality of instruction. ``We're concerned that the efforts to improve teaching . . . will be lost under the sheer weight of numbers,'' he adds.

Recently a number of incentive plans have been adopted by states to improve teachers' salaries and make the profession more attractive. But the Trinity program is unusual in that it comes from a liberal arts college that traditionally has not been heavily involved in teacher education. And it includes more than just the financial incentive of a four-year scholarship.