By the time Elijah West Jr. knew he wanted to be an elementary school teacher, he was married with three children and had a college degree in a completely different field.
He dreamed of going back to school at nights to get his teaching certification, but with a family to support it just didn't seem possible. He began working as a teacher's aide in the Savannah, Ga., public school system, but the job paid so little that he had to work two other jobs as well to get by. It was a difficult existence, and if it hadn't been for the Pathways to Teaching Careers Program, Mr. West might have dropped out of the profession altogether.
The Pathways program was launched by the DeWitt Wallace Foundation in New York in 1989. It encourages minorities already working in public school systems - as teacher's aides, librarians, cafeteria staff, bus drivers - to return to college for teaching certification.
Candidates accepted into the program are offered significantly reduced tuition and, in some cases, time off from work to attend classes. In exchange, the new teachers agree to work for at least three years in the districts that sponsor them. So far the program has produced more than 3,000 teachers nationwide.
West earned his certification seven years ago, and has been working since then as a full-time fourth-grade teacher at Savannah's Esther Garrison Elementary School. It's a job he loves - and one he believes he's able to do especially well because his African-American students can relate to him as a role model.
West says that the success he and some of his Pathways cohorts have experienced in improving student achievement and attendance demonstrates the importance of bringing more minorities into the teaching field.
"We've proven here in Savannah that it clearly makes a difference," he says. Schools across the US "should be actively recruiting minorities."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society