Attracting 'best and brightest' to teaching

Stanford's Hennessy headlines panel on boosting K-12 teaching careers

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.


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Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

Yea for Ms. Quintero! We need more wonderful teachers!! How to get more people to choose this as a career? Have it pay a realistic salary. Teachers in California need a credential, which is almost a Master's degree. Teachers work long hours outside of school time doing prep and grading, but starting salaries much less than that of police and fire, which require high school diploma. Teachers used to be the Mom's of the kids, and the wives of the Engineers in Palo Alto. Now those Mom's and wives are going to Law School and Business School so they can make enough money to buy a house in Palo Alto send their kids to Stanford.

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Posted by Ellen Smith
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

What an inspiring story! But it is NOT about Henessey. The headline does a disservice to Ms. Quintero. I salute her and hope the event is well attended and well noted.

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Posted by Ray Bacchetti
a resident of University South
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:17 am

Good for Julia! She's right on every point. One could add that the future of the nation depends in large part on its teachers and the work they do in nation-building as well as subject matter, helping students realize what they are capable of, and developing the qualities of empathy, respect for others, teamwork, and the other qualities that build social capital.

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Posted by Cheryl
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:32 am

I am sorry, but after teaching for 15 years and a Master's I only make $3500 more than a starting teacher. Further more, staring salary is 1/2 to 1/3 the staring salary for most other professional careers. Being single, I will never own a house or a new car. I absolutely forbade my daughter to go into teaching and I would seriously councel young people to stay away from this career for a first career.

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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:32 am

Great story, I love the idea of "pre-ed". The education systems that are so successful in other countries have one thing in common, the prestige of teaching and the quality of the teachers. Julia is exactly right that we should be addressing the problem of great teachers (but we also need to address getting rid of the bad ones...)

@Ellen - while the article is not about Henessy, it will get a lot more views because of his name in the headline, exactly why Julia approached him!

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Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Awesome story. Thank you Julia. This give me hope.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The primary issue is not *attracting* the "best and brightest" (B&B), but to stop repelling them. Study after study, for decade after decade, has found that there are many of the B&B who want to be teachers, but drop out.

Many transfer out of Ed Schools because the curriculum insults their intelligence and wastes their time. One common complaint has been "They treat us like idiots". When I was teaching at Oregon State University in the 1980s, the Ed School offered a course in teaching supposed tailored for the professors in Engineering and the sciences. The first class was on the overhead projector, the device, not making presentations, and included topics such as the 3-prong plug, extenstion cords, changing the light bulb. Everyone I knew walked out well before the end of the first hour. Same thing happened to my mother when she went back to teaching (1960s), my brother (1970s), and various friends in subsequent decades.

The half-joke among various teachers I know is that Ed School is not an education program, but an endurance/stress test to filter out people who won't survive in a mind-numbing bureaucracy.

A second factor in many B&Bs leaving Ed Schools is that they find out that the curriculum leaves them inadequate time to acquire the background in the subject matter they want to teach, much less time to pursue their passion for that topic.

Those of the B&B that make it through Ed School were found to too often drop out of teaching because of frustration with the work environment: A common complaint was that they weren't allowed or supported in becoming/being good teachers.

Recognize that pay is effectively a non-issue for the B&B -- they decide to leave teaching or to endure is dominated by other considerations.

Also a consideration in pay levels is the matter of performance. The teacher unions in California and other states are routinely cited as a/the major obstacle to meaningful education reform. The current environment of emphasis on standardized testing is the result of decades of frustration with the education establishment's romance with failed practices (eg Whole Language Learning, Self-esteem).

I have sympathy for the individual teacher stuck in this system, recognizing that there is little that they can individually do about this. But those teachers also need to understand that by accepting being part of that system, they are part of the problem.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Addendum to my previous comment:
Some of this was touched upon in a New York Times opinion piece by Bill Keller (former editor) on 2013 Oct 21 entitled "An Industry of Mediocrity" (Web Link)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm

A practical step to encourage high quality teachers with degrees from places like Stanford? This would require some sort of loan forgiveness or free tuition after teaching a certain number of years in K-12. Without that unfortunately it really is financially foolish to pay for a Stanford degree to go into education.

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Posted by Megan
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 29, 2013 at 12:29 am

Congrats Julia! So proud of you :) Who knew back in K-12 schools that you would be headed back some day haha

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Posted by Patrick
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2013 at 5:38 am

Kudos to Julia for organizing this panel and respect to President Hennessy for agreeing to attend. As a high school teacher for the past thirty-six years I have known many excellent teachers who have sacrificed more lucrative careers for teaching. With many teachers retiring (I'm not far off) we need to attract the B&B students to go into education. Other countries value their teachers more than we do in the United States - they not only pay them better, but their workload is often considerably less.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 29, 2013 at 6:28 am

Way to go, Julia! This is an incredible success and I hope all goes well tonight (:

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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