Help wanted

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Deans Blog


Last week we held our annual Teacher and Administrator Recruitment Fair at Spartan Stadium, and once again, we hosted over 130 school districts from around the world who came to recruit graduates of the Michigan State University College of Education.  Before our graduates arrived, I visited the fair and talked to recruiters from around the country as they were setting up their booths.  The fair is an important event each year, particularly for our interns who are completing their yearlong clinical experience, as it provides an opportunity for them to speak face-to-face with a number of school districts at one time.

This time of year can be an anxious period for our interns.  Most are just beginning their job search for the fall, and they are asking themselves many questions, including:

  • Where to teach? Stay in Michigan or look elsewhere around the country?  Teach internationally?  The great majority of our graduates come from Michigan, and almost all of them do their internships in Michigan districts.  In recent cohorts of our graduates, however, close to one third have taken jobs outside of Michigan.
  • In what kind of setting do they want to teach – rural, urban, suburban?
  • In what kind of school do they want to teach – public, private independent, parochial, or charter school?
  • What grade level?  Many of our graduates have multiple certifications that would allow them to teach different grades.

Two weeks ago I met with our interns in Chicago and visited their schools to see them at work.  Four weeks before that, I went to the MSU Detroit Center and met with our Detroit-area elementary interns.  Our graduates in both groups expressed anxiety about the job search, worrying mostly about whether they would find the kind of job they had been dreaming about ever since they made the decision to become a teacher.

With both groups I shared information from a study of last year’s intern class that was conducted by MSU’s Career Services Network.  The study, called the Destination Survey, queried our teacher certification graduates in the winter after they completed their internships and asked them about their occupational and educational status.  Over 70% of last year’s interns responded to the survey, and among those who responded, 90 percent were employed, and 95 percent of these were working as teachers.  Another five percent of the respondents had chosen to continue their education full-time.

I believe that these data were somewhat reassuring to this year’s interns, and it helped give them some confidence going into their own job search.  As I reported about my Chicago visit earlier this month, two of the interns accepted jobs in Chicago Public Schools in the 24 hours I was visiting with them.  I am sure there are many other interns who already have jobs, but most are still looking as evidenced by the crowds at the recruitment fair.

I asked many of the recruiters why they came to our fair.  As I wrote about after last year’s fair, the stories I heard from the school district personnel (which was a mix of principals, human resource directors, and other central office personnel) were remarkably consistent.  All reported that they found our graduates very well prepared, more so than most teacher preparation programs, so that they were ready to hit the ground running on their first day on the job as a brand new teacher.

The reasons for that excellent preparation, they told me, were two-fold:

  1. The quality of the academic preparation the students received; and
  2. The extent and quality of the clinical experience the interns received.

We are one of the few teacher preparation programs around the country in which interns spend close to a full academic year (34 weeks) in the classroom working with an experienced and carefully selected mentor teacher.  Our interns are in the classroom from before the students arrive at the beginning of the year and stay there until late April.  They get to experience the entire rhythm of the school year, and have plenty of opportunity to do actual teaching on their own.  The depth of this clinical experience is an unusual opportunity that the vast majority of teacher education students do not receive.

We brought along a camera crew to conduct interviews of some of the school district staff at the fair, focusing on those districts who had attended before and who had hired and were familiar with our graduates.  Here are just a couple of representative quotations from those interviews:

  • “When they come into the classroom for us, they come in as someone with one year of experience.  So it’s hands-down, a no-brainer.  We love them.  They are way ahead of other student teachers and even first- and second-year teachers as well. . . .  It doesn’t matter what the challenge is – they just seem to embrace it and are very excited.”
    — Arturo Martinez, Assistant Director of Professional Staffing, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Houston, TX
  • “They are not like new teachers.  They are so prepared, they have a different level of maturity and confidence that I just think really stands out. I’ve not interviewed a candidate from Michigan State that I have not been impressed by.  You do a great job of getting them to be open to change, but also understand the fundamentals of teaching.”
    — Matt Outlaw, Principal, Grosse Pointe South High School, MI

We’ll be compiling these interviews into some materials to be used for recruiting students into our teacher education programs, so stay tuned for more.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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