By Peter Hansen
uring the 1998-99 school year, 593 teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools resigned. That included 153 in their first year at MPSa third of the 462 first-year MPS teachers hired that year. Another 146 resigners had only two to five years of experience in the district.
On average, 50 percent of beginning MPS teachers leave after three or fewer years, according to Linda Post, professor and chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Department in the UWM School of Education.
Also in 1998-99, 213 teachers retired. In July 1999, 17 percent of MPS teachers were between 45 and 49, and 9 percent were 55 or older.
Problems in Milwaukee, where many estimate a need of 1,000 new teachers per year in the next several years, are not unique. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 2.2 million teachers will be needed nationwide in the next 10 years.
Some districts cant even get enough teachers to start their school years, Post says, adding that MPSs retention efforts have left it in better shape than many other large urban districts. Even in school districts that can do that, the issue is how many of them are still going to be there and grow and develop into master teachers, and become teacher leaders in the district, versus how many are going to be gone in 3 to 5 years.
UWM has had a long-standing tradition of providing alternative routes into teaching, perhaps more than many other cities, says Kenneth Howey, UWM professor of education and president of the Urban Network to Improve Teacher Education, a group of 31 urban education partnerships.
One problem with the alternative routes has been the disjointed nature of the programs. The Milwaukee Partnership for Teacher Quality, a broad, community-wide initiative designed to improve the preparation of the citys public school teachers, has helped to better align UWMs teacher recruitment efforts.
We had multiple entry points; we didnt bring them all together under one umbrella, and so everybody couldnt see it all, says Marleen Pugach, professor in the School of Education and a key member of the Partnership Academy. We had a very serious reform effort, but not everyone knew about it. And we had a good relationship with MPS from the start, so the (partnership) grant was a way for us to put all these things under one umbrella.
Some UWM programs tap an important source: the more than 2,000 education assistants and paraprofessionals already working within MPS.
Theyre vested in the school, and theyre vested in their neighborhood community within Milwaukee, Howey says. We have to provide a pipeline for those people to gain full professional status as a teacher if theyre interested and able to do so.
Generally, paraprofessionals are support staff in MPS classrooms who have earned 60 or more college credits, and educational assistants have fewer than 60. Many are from minority populations, making them important to MPSs goal of increasing the diversity of the citys teaching force.
Similar to the national Teach for America program, the Metropolitan Multicultural Teacher Education Program (MMTEP) is available to holders of bachelors degrees outside of education. Both programs seek to improve the education of under-served children by attracting a culturally diverse and highly motivated teaching force.
But MMTEP founder Martin Haberman is quick to distinguish his program from other programs, noting that MMTEP requires college graduates in Milwaukee to teach in Milwaukee. While TFA participants are placed in areas across the country and make a two-year commitment, MMTEP participants are working in MPS already and agree to teach in the district for four years.
Were committed to Milwaukee, and not to just certifying people, says Haberman, UWM distinguished professor of curriculum and instruction.
In the 12-month MMTEP program, participants start with an intensive six-week summer session, during which they take UWM classes and teach MPS summer school. During this time they are evaluated for their ability to relate to the children and readiness for full-time teaching responsibilities.
Then each candidate is assigned to an MPS classroom for the following full academic year, performing all duties of regular beginning teachers, and receiving the same salary and benefits. During the year, MPS provides teacher mentors who visit the participants classrooms on a regular basis and provide on-the-job coaching. MMTEP graduates are guaranteed MPS teaching contracts.
MMTEP graduates say their experience as paraprofessionals, or paras, as theyre often called, helped prepare them to lead a classroom. Recent MMTEP graduates meet in a weekly class led by Haberman to discuss their experiences and ongoing challenges of urban teaching.
With me, being a para helped a little bit, rather than coming cold right out of college, one African-American woman says. We at least had some expectations. Coming right out of college and being thrown in a room with 28 children is totally different. Then the teachers in there and youre coming in to do your little student teaching. We at least had some background.
The numbers reveal resounding success for MMTEP: A spring 1999 study found that 94% of MMTEP graduates since its inception in 1990 were still teaching in MPS.
Thats an unprecedented retention rate, Post says. Of that 94 percent, 78 percent are of color, which is also an excellent percentage. Its a really important way for us to begin to diversify our programs, which of course is one of (Chancellor) Nancy Zimphers goals in the Milwaukee Idea and the Milwaukee Commitment, but its also a major goal here in our programs.
Because MMTEP is coordinated with MPSs teacher mentor program, only 30 students can participate each year.
College graduates in Milwaukee not working in MPS also have an alternative to a standard UWM teacher education programMTEC. The Milwaukee Teacher Education Center is an independent, non-profit corporation begun by MPS, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, UWM School of Education, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. While similar to MMTEP in its curriculum and competency requirements, MTECs unique structure has more flexibility.
Founded in 1995 and teaching students since the fall of 1997, MTEC employs experienced MPS teachers as full-time faculty, and representatives from UWM, the community, and businesses as part-time faculty. Students take courses through MTEC, not UWM. Although the program does not grant credits, many local universities allow successful MTEC completion to fulfill up to half of their masters degree requirements.
MTEC teacher mentors time is paid for by program tuition, so participation in the program can grow with demand. In 1998-99, 78 students participated in the program, This year there are over 120.
Besides these alternative certification options, there are special programs to help specific populations enter either the UWM teacher education program or programs at other local universities.
Pathways to Teaching Careers Program
UWM is one of 42 schools nationwide participating in the Pathways to Teaching Careers Program, supported by the DeWitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund.
Funding for the Milwaukee program, a joint project of MPS, UWM, and Alverno College, also comes from the Helen Bader Foundation. The program is designed to enable MPS educational assistants and paraprofessionals to complete their undergraduate degree in elementary and middle school teaching (including bilingual education), with a specific emphasis on teaching in urban schools. Pathways is targeted but not limited to increasing the number of minority teachers in MPS.
MPS paraprofessionals and educational assistants who are nearing eligibility for admission to the UWM School of Education can compete for Pathways scholarships, which cover up to 80 percent of tuition and provide child-care, tutoring, and low-interest loans.
Pathways scholars go through the professional program together as a cohort group, and their classes are held during evenings, weekends, and the summer to accommodate their work schedules.
Youre talking about people who have a 30- to 40-hour-a-week job, they have families, theyre trying to make ends meet, theyre trying to get through school, says Pugach, who directs the UWM Pathways program. These are incredibly strong, committed people who are taking on a lot to become teachers.
The Cooperative Urban Teacher Education Program (CUTEP), at Milwaukee Area Technical College, allows aspiring teachers of color to complete the first two years of their course requirements at MATC. Successful CUTEP students are then guaranteed admission to UWMs teacher education program for their final two years.
CUTEP students can apply for the Minority Teacher Internship Program, which allows them to spend over 50 hours in MPS classrooms, where they can tutor, go on field trips, and sometimes work on lesson plans.
CUTEP is another example of a longstanding effort to recruit students of color that has now been brought under the umbrella of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, Pugach says.
Getting the right people to begin with
In addition to preparing people for the challenges of urban schools, its also important to pick the right people in the first place, Haberman says. So many of them fail or quit. So obviously, having a degree or certificate doesnt predict (success) with children of poverty.
To help districts hire qualified teachers, Haberman developed the Urban Teacher Selection Interview, which is administered to MMTEP participants and has been adopted by many urban districts across the country.
The interview attempts to predict (applicants) ability to function in bureaucracy and relate to children in poverty, says Haberman, a past recipient of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards Teacher Educator of the Year award. Those are the most important obstacles. People who quit or fail cant relate to the kids, cant function in bureaucracy.
If we do it right, by 2010, therell be a whole new profile of who the American teacher is, at least for teachers in poverty and for teachers in the great cities. By 2010, the profile of who is a big-city teacher will be completely transformed.