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Lessons in teaching

May 02, 2007

Re "Teachers dropping out too," April 27

Teachers like Maurice Stephenson, who come from high-paying jobs in the industry they wish to teach, underestimate how difficult teaching truly is. Teacher retention is low, but those who cannot adapt to the needs of unmotivated students aren't the ones we want to keep.

When I applied to teach on an emergency credential nine years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District was taking anything that moved with a college degree, educational training or not. By raising teacher salaries, and not by the 6% our union just agreed on but by about 20%, more young graduates from college would take teaching seriously as a profession. My fiance and I graduated from college with no loans to pay back, yet teaching in the Los Angeles area means the two of us could never own a house anywhere near where we teach on the Westside.

If salaries were competitive, public schools could pick and choose their workforce from the best and the brightest rather than struggling to fill positions and being stuck with what walks in the door.

SCOTT BURSTEIN

Los Angeles

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After receiving degrees in physics and electrical engineering and working in the high-technology sector, I wanted to teach. I enrolled in the UC San Diego teacher education program for math and science. It required three quarters of classroom involvement and changed my views.

A field trip to an elementary school in Tijuana was instructive. The school had two adjoining, unfinished cinderblock rooms with chalkboards and lighting from windows and a single bulb hanging at the end of an electrical cord. There was no heating or air conditioning. The only playground was a concrete volleyball court. Children sat quietly at individual desks and paid close attention to the teacher. At recess, I asked my faculty advisor what accounted for this excellent student behavior. I was told that in Mexico, education is a paid privilege in which parent involvement is required. Parents and their children fear the alternative of groveling in the streets and poverty.

ROGER NEWELL

San Diego

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