BOSTON — One of the most interesting ideas I've seen for attracting newcomers to teaching comes from Britain, a country struggling, as the US is, to hire and keep qualified educators.
The concept is simple: a "taster" course. People who are considering teaching as a second career spend a few evenings hearing about what would be required of them. They also shadow a teacher for a day to see what it's like on the front line.
"A lot of very good people come into the profession this way," says Graham Tarrant, who coordinates the taster program offered at the Institute of Education at the University of London.
Dr. Tarrant says people often leave with a more positive perception about the atmosphere in schools, but they are still concerned about issues like living on low starting salaries.
Still, this seems like an idea worth importing. Consider these recent headlines: "Texas Schools Plagued By Teacher Shortage," "South Carolina Retired Teachers Returning to Work," "Oregon Schools Try Bonuses, Benefits to Attract Teachers," and "New Jersey Readies for Teacher Shortage."
Earlier this month, a district in Georgia opened a school day care center as a way to ensure that much needed teachers stay put.
As long as we're offering cash bonuses and child care, why not throw taster courses into the mix as well? Tarrant says the courses provide contact with candidates -in valuable professionslike the sciences -whom schools might not normally reach. That's certainly something we could use on this side of the Atlantic -and soon.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society