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Teaching Catches On

"Teaching is hot," USA Today proclaimed recently. Salaries have improved. Teachers say they're better respected. More mid-career professionals are leaving their jobs to teach. More college freshmen say they're interested in the job.

Gone are the 1980s, when most people chose work based on how much money they could make. Increasingly, today's refrain is, "How can I make a difference?" At Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, applications were up 54 percent over last year.

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That's good news. In his recent State of Education Address in Atlanta, Education Secretary Richard Riley reiterated President Clinton's claim that at least 2 million teachers will have to be hired in the next decade to replace retirees and to accommodate rapidly growing enrollments. The recruitment of males and minorities into teaching ranks demands special attention.

But recruiting isn't enough. Supporting teachers is crucial. Thirty percent of new teachers leave within three years. Many say they became disillusioned when they spent more time disciplining students than teaching them.

Mr. Riley had it right when he said that teachers, like lawyers, should have a clear set of professional standards to live up to. One step in that direction is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' goal of certifying more than 100,000 "master" teachers over the next 10 years. Novice teachers could be matched with a master teacher for the first few years, giving them needed support.

"Will we meet the challenge?" Riley asked. The enthusiasm is there, both on the federal level and among the growing number of people who are turning to teaching as a career. "Teaching is hot," but there's much to be done to make sure it stays that way.

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