Listeners to National Public Radio's acclaimed "Morning Edition" news program were pleasantly surprised earlier this week when the show broadcast a feature item about 22-year-old Cora Frost, a first-year teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore. Ms. Frost came to the city public schools through an innovative program called "Teach for America," which puts bright liberal arts graduates to work in the classroom while they study for their teacher certification.
The idea of hiring liberal arts graduates who may not have taken formal education courses in college has been a pet project of state school board president Robert C. Embry Jr., whose efforts were instrumental in bringing alternative teacher certification LTC programs to Maryland. Mr. Embry has long argued that the schools need to broaden the applicant pool to include people whose experience or special skills would make them valuable additions to any school faculty, even though they don't have all the requirements for state teacher certification.
Baltimore currently is experimenting with a number of programs designed to allow such individuals to enter the teaching profession while they pursue formal education degrees. This year, for example, about 75 aspiring teachers are working in city classrooms under the "Teach for America" program. The city school department also sponsors its own Resident Teacher Certification Program in cooperation with the University of Maryland Baltimore County, under which non-education graduates -- many of them former military personnel -- can obtain certification.
The city also draws non-traditional teacher applicants from Towson University's Peace Corps Fellows-USA program, which prepares returning Peace Corps volunteers for teaching careers, and the Johns Hopkins University Master's Degree in Special Education program for prospective teachers who wish to work with handicapped students.
This year, 114 of the 700 new teachers hired by the city public schools came through an alternative certification program. Next year, the number will almost double. School officials say such non-traditional candidates, especially military veterans, can make excellent teachers. They are imbued with the work ethic, know how to function in bureaucracies and have good interpersonal skills. Principal Ruth N. Bukatman is delighted to have Ms. Frost in her school. Clearly, the city is doing something right.