In a society in which most
now live in the suburbs, and the term "inner city" is synonymous
danger and intractable woes, many teachers don't even want to go
downtown—much less feel prepared to deal with the real problems
campaigns for city schools, upbeat
brochures touting the excitement of city living, more efficient and
effective hiring—all those tactics are likely to come up short if
cities remain sinkholes in many minds, and if the
schools in question can't provide environments that promise real
In our sample, we found that when teachers with other
choices do pick a district where most students are poor and members
of minority groups, their preferences are often rooted in a
commitment to the local community and the people there.
Munn, a standout master's-degree student who accepted a job in the
East Cleveland district, one of the state's poorest, feels a calling
to work with children who have grown up black and urban, as she did.
Allison Hauserman, a middle-aged white woman, has made her home in
Cleveland for more than 20 years, learning the byways of her
husband's hometown and working at jobs in which she rubbed elbows
with people from many walks of life. Her first choice for a teaching
job was the politically battered Cleveland district, and she is
teaching there this year.
Contrast their outcomes with those of
several others, who thought about city jobs but ultimately shied
away. Either the commute into the city from their suburban
or the potential challenges of a large district where a
disproportionate number of the children are poor and black kept
able white teachers closer to home. In two cases, the fact that they
even thought about working in an urban district owes something to
their positive student-teaching experiences in schools within or
close to the Cleveland city limits.
Many candidates for teaching
jobs head right for schools like the suburban ones they attended.
Lyndsay Dimengo looked to the places where she already had
connections. Dimengo is teaching this year in the Jackson district
south of Akron, where her aunt lives and not far from where she grew
Even a program like Cleveland State University's 3-year-old
Master's in Urban Secondary Teaching, which specializes in grounding
teachers for a city experience, doesn't send all its graduates to
high-poverty schools. Nor, given its time and tuition commitment,
does it attract many African-American students, though the
high-poverty districts it was set up to serve enroll large
Out of the 20-member class that included Tesha Munn and
Allison Hauserman, just three students were African-American.
Yet lack of interest in urban teaching is not the
obstacle to filling the ranks with well-qualified instructors.
mobile teachers who might be drawn to city life and city schools
often face an impersonal or sluggish system that prompts them to go
Some of the turnoffs aspiring teachers face are linked
to district size. Carol Hauser, the personnel head of the Cleveland
district, points to a stunning statistic: In 1998, 605 of Ohio's 611
school districts had fewer teachers overall than the 260 that
The scale of the work in urban districts makes it
harder to move nimbly. When the 5,800-student East Cleveland schools
heard that student-teacher Munn was interviewing next door in the
74,000-student Cleveland district, officials of the smaller but
poorer district successfully scrambled to sign her up.
tends to give an impersonal cast to the proceedings. After an
interview with a recruiter led recent college graduate Heather Penny
to believe the Cleveland district was seriously interested in her,
she was surprised—and irked—when no one told her that her paper
application had become outmoded. (The district had switched to an
online system.) Later, she felt lost in a mass meeting with
Young teachers who might be
drawn to city schools often face an impersonal or sluggish system
that prompts them to go elsewhere.
Penny, who is teaching this year in a rural district
near Wooster, Ohio, also ran into a problem that bedevils many urban
districts: the comparatively late date at which Cleveland might have
been able to make her a job offer.
While urban districts plod
through contract provisions that reserve jobs for teachers already
the system, beg veterans to decide early whether they are retiring,
and try to keep track of hundreds of openings, smaller districts
up new hires.
The shifting sands of urban districts' budgets
further complicate and delay the tough job of forecasting the number
of openings. A candidate with a strong commitment to urban schools
may find the patience and stamina to stick through such
uncertainties, but a young person anxious to be hired may go with
offer that comes first.
make a difference, of course, but the effect is often muted for
young, beginning teachers.
Veteran teacher Rebecca Ferrell balked
at one more year of her Lutheran-school salary, several thousand
dollars less than she would have earned in a Cleveland public
But even she decided to stay put rather than go to a doubtful
situation. Several in the Education Week group, such as
36-year-old beginner Michelle Flanagan, said they didn't pay much
attention to the pay differences between public school districts.
Flanagan figured she would make between $27,000 and $30,000 wherever
she started in the area. She landed in the small city of Elyria,
which will pay her around $29,000.
On the other hand, among the
several reasons 23-year-old Robert Ristau gave for accepting a
position as a teacher's aide in the Beachwood district rather than
seeking a job as a teacher in Cleveland or elsewhere was future
money. If Ristau steps up to the teacher's job for which he is
certified in Beachwood, his beginning salary will probably top
Research by Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at Harvard
University's graduate school of education, suggests that salaries
are more likely to influence male teachers than female ones. Age and
experience may be important, too.
Elizabeth L. Useem, the head of
research at the Philadelphia Education Fund, is finding that pay is
less important to new teachers than those with a few years of
experience. "Money seems to be emerging as a big issue after three
years," she says, noting that both the press of college debts and
need to pay graduate school tuition are factors.
|‘Teachers want to feel safe; they
to feel they have a supportive and pleasant environment ... and they
need to feel they can turn to people for support for their
American Federation of Teachers
general working conditions—skilled administrators, safe and
surroundings, students whose basic needs are being met—often
break potential deals. Such considerations also place a premium on
candidates' ability to select not just a district but a school. In
that respect, Cleveland was handicapped because some candidates were
unclear that, for the most part, the schools do their own hiring
after an initial screening by the central office.
of the job candidates we followed suggest that urban districts can
hire top-notch talent. But the availability of such talent is likely
to remain relatively rare in the current climate of urban schools.
Changes in the hiring process will help. So will broader cooperation
with teacher-training institutions, which through student teaching
provide the person-to-person contacts that often lead to successful
Districts like Cleveland that have overhauled their
recruitment and hiring practices with an eye to boosting the number
of licensed teachers they need are making headway. And they seem to
be avoiding some of the Kafkaesque procedural snarls of the past,
which saw teachers passionate about urban youngsters tromping off to
But it will be hard for many districts to take
the next step toward quality without more competition in the urban
teacher market. To create that, administrators will have to do a
better job of finding aspiring teachers who are comfortable in the
city. But even then, the task may be overwhelming unless the lot of
cities improves or a crusade for highly qualified teachers catches
In that campaign, there would be no escaping that urban
schools have to become better places to work with higher pay, says
Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of
which represents most of the nation's urban teaching force.
"Teachers want to feel safe; they want to feel they have a
supportive and pleasant environment ... and they need to feel they
can turn to people for support for their students," Feldman
says. "You must have the environmental factors, or teachers will
Counts is produced with support from the Pew Charitable