Setting up the nation's first merit school program (see story on page 29) is just part of a much larger, concerted effort in Dade County to professionalize the business of teaching -- an effort that is making Dade a national model in teacher reform. A recent five-day orientation program for the 600 new Dade County teachers is one example why. New teachers are notoriously bewildered during their first six months -- a time when many decide whether teaching, or the public school system, is for them. Yet in the majority of districts, the new teacher is thrown into a classroom without much guidance.
But this year, the public school leadership here, in conjunction with the local teacher union decided to lay some groundwork for new teachers before they ever got to the classroom, to make them feel a part of the system, and to arrange to give them professional support throughout the year.
During the 40 hours of orientation, such incidental -- but time-consuming -- matters such as insurance, certification issues, administrative duties, legal advice, credit union status, salary questions, and retirement benefits were covered. They are also given help with stickier issues such as how to deal with student populations they may be culturally unfamiliar with, and with some of the latest approaches to discipline and classroom management.
Each teacher is also set up with a ``support team'' -- three people with whom they will work throughout the year. Peter Isquick, a veteran teacher who transferred from Cornwall, N.Y., said he wishes he had been given this type of introduction to teaching when he started in the 1970s. ``They've given a lot of attention to the concept of teaching as a performing art -- which I think we need to hear more about,'' he adds. -- R.M.