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Teacher Training Program Reaches Out to Promote Itself


By the numbers, they are just a fraction of the new teachers needed in California classrooms. But give credit to these young idealists fresh out of college. They go straight into the schools where teachers are needed most.

Now in its ninth year, Teach for America is still attracting some of the country's top college graduates for service in urban and rural schools.

The New York City-based nonprofit organization recruits teachers, trains them for several weeks and helps them find jobs in school districts around the country, where they commit to working for a regular salary for at least two years. The organization also checks in frequently with its novice teachers to ensure that they are adjusting to some of America's most difficult educational assignments. More than half continue beyond their two-year enlistment.

This year, the program placed 87 new teachers in Los Angeles-area schools, up from 78 the year before. In all, it counts 161 teachers in 68 schools in the Lynwood, Compton, Long Beach, Pasadena and Los Angeles school districts.

Seeking to promote its work, Teach for America this week is bringing celebrities, politicians and business leaders into Southern California classrooms staffed by members of its corps.

On Monday, Andre Dimitriadis went into Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena to talk about personal finance.

Dimitriadis, chairman and chief executive of a real estate investment trust in Oxnard, said he was distressed at the decline of public education in California--and impressed by the mission of the teaching program.

"We all talk about how important education is to the future of this country," Dimitriadis said. "It's easy to give money, but the more valuable thing, perhaps, is to give time."

At least two dozen others were expected to give talks in the schools--among them a state senator, a television newscaster, an architect and a film company president.

Today, actor John Lithgow is scheduled to visit Carver Middle School in South-Central Los Angeles.

"It's so obviously a good thing to support," said Lithgow, whose two sisters work in public schools in Los Angeles and Ithaca, N.Y.

Lithgow said he plans to give a talk on a certain English playwright active around the end of the 16th and start of the 17th centuries. But with a twist.

"For so many kids the word Shakespeare means only one thing," Lithgow said, "and that is sheer boredom."

So Lithgow said he would start out with a detailed ghost story, replete with witches and floating daggers, and then reveal to the students that they had just heard the tale of Macbeth.

Teach for America organizers are hoping that support from people like Lithgow and Dimitriadis will help get the word out. After a similar effort last year, applications to the program rose to 2,759 in 1998, from 2,552 the year before.

Those chosen for the program get intense training in a five-week summer institute--enough to get them going, but not enough for a full credential.

Such programs as Teach for America alone won't be nearly enough to fill the state's teaching shortage. To put the magnitude of the problem in perspective: In the last school year the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing issued 25,000 emergency permits for public school teachers.

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