Stanford University President John Hennessy will discuss ways to attract the nation's brightest students to careers in teaching in a public panel discussion Tuesday, Oct. 29.
Joining Hennessy on the panel will be California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, Dean of Stanford's Graduate School of Education Claude Steele and Director of the Stanford Teacher Education Program Rachel Lotan.
The event was organized by Stanford junior Julia Quintero, an aspiring teacher who formed an undergraduate pre-teaching club on campus last year.
Quintero, who is pursuing majors in both history and human biology, said, "I was in the human bio core, which is mostly pre-meds, and everything was pre-med this and pre-med that and I thought, 'Why not pre-ed?'
She said her organization is "trying to spark a national movement towards drawing the most talented college graduates into careers in education, particularly teaching."
When she advertised leadership positions in her new club, the Stanford Pre-Education Society, last winter, Quintero said she was surprised to get 70 requests for information, and ultimately 20 applicants.
She approached Hennessy over the summer for help with her idea.
"We wanted someone who has a lot of status and respect to give legitimacy to the idea that, yeah, Stanford students should totally go into teaching," she said in an interview on campus Saturday.
She labored over composing just the right email to Hennessy. "Twelve hours later he replied and he said yes and I said, 'What?' Someone had told me to think more realistically, but he answered right away."
Quintero said she initially dismissed the idea of teaching when Jared Friebel, her English teacher at Hinsdale (Ill.) Central High School, suggested she consider it as a career.
"He helped me realize that the reasons I was brushing it aside weren't good reasons, like: 'Why should I go to Stanford just to become a teacher?' 'Why would I waste this degree to become a teacher?'
"It just comes from pressure from society. You go to an elite school and teaching just doesn't have any prestige," she said.
"If I say I study public policy in education, that sounds really prestigious, like, 'Wow, you're making a huge difference.' And it's true. Policymakers do make a big difference, but I've come to alter my views on that.
"It's teachers that really make the biggest difference. Studies show that, and any student could tell you that. What matters most in a successful class, hands down, is the teacher. It's not technology, and funding's important, but at the end of the day it's really the teacher that matters most."
Quintero hopes the Stanford Pre-Education Society will help gain practical tools and support for aspiring teachers that Stanford already offers to pre-medical and pre-law students.
"There are a lot of service opportunities and policy talks, but no one there to give you advice on what should I major in, or which of the hundreds of service opportunities should I pursue," she said.
Quintero said she hopes to "start a conversation" on ways to encourage bright students to pursue K-12 teaching careers.
She said she's frustrated over the public debate about ways to assess teachers so as to identify and remove the bad ones.
"I agree that we should remove bad teachers, but I'm baffled that most of the conversation in education reform is addressing the symptom and not addressing the cause of who's going into education in the first place," she said.
"Why not just attract the best students into teaching careers in the first place?"
Tuesday's panel discussion, free and open to the public, will be from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in CEMEX Auditorium at the Graduate School of Business.