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March 1, 1993
Vol. 50
No. 6

Teaching “Cadet Teachers”

In every teacher's career comes a dark day of hopelessness, a feeling that teachers are not now and never will be respected. Like T.S. Eliot's hollow men, we become “shape without form” and “paralyzed force, gesture without motion.” Provided more paper about students than time for the students themselves, swallowed up in schedule constraints that prevent us from sharing with our colleagues, and told by a variety of publics that what we do is not good enough, most of us join the growing ranks of the cynical.
Five years ago, after 11 years of teaching high school English, I reached this point. I became disillusioned with my lack of professional standing and, indeed, my disbelief in my own professionalism. What use, I questioned, were my own skills, training, and experience in the face of another year of budget cuts, frenzied class schedules, and outdated curriculums?

The Path to Professionalism

It was the advent of the Teacher Cadet Program in my school that inspired me to begin my journey toward professionalism. The program is a senior honors elective in which bright students are exposed to a curriculum rich with activities and simulations designed to interest them in pursuing teaching as a career. Asked to implement the course, I suddenly found myself a part of an incredible network of teachers connected through the South Carolina Center for Teacher Recruitment. (See “the Teacher in Residence Program,” p.52, for a related article about the Center.) Beginning with my first training session, I discovered a support staff of interested, innovative, and knowledgeable educators who believed that teachers had the power to shape the future of this state.
At the workshop to train new teachers to use the Teacher Cadet curriculum, the Center did more to give me confidence in my power and skills than any other experience in my teaching career. Surrounded by other teachers, we were given time to discuss issues in education, freedom to develop adaptations and give input for implementing the program in our schools, and resources about current research, laws, and practices across the country.
Over the next four years, the sense of purpose I had gained continued to flourish as I watched the brightest seniors in my school explore teaching as a career. In working with them as they shadowed school officials, tutored at-risk students, and taught in area schools, I experienced again and again the sheer magic of teaching, the spark of excitement on a young face that defies the disappointment in salary cuts and budget constraints. Talking with them about teaching forced me to explore my own beliefs and ideas about the power of teaching. When I told my Teacher Cadets that “I could pursue any career that I want, but there is nothing I would rather do than teach,” I realized that I meant these words sincerely.
In the sharp and cynical voices of high school seniors, they probed me about the long hours involved in teaching and the lack of respect from parents. I responded by reminding them of the drawbacks of other professions such as medicine and law. Together, we discovered that what distinguishes teaching as a profession is the very freedom and independence to practice skills gained through experience. In the process, I began my first step on the path to professionalism: developing a strong commitment to and belief in the profession itself.
The next step came as I worked with colleagues during my four years as a Teacher Cadet teacher. In placing my high school students in area schools to observe and teach, I had the chance to talk with teachers and administrators at my own school and other schools in my district. As we worked together to give the Cadets a sense of teaching as a career, a supportive camaraderie developed that gave us confidence in our ideas and in our collective experiences. This development of shared goals and purpose was also at the forefront of my experiences with other Teacher Cadet teachers.
At annual conferences and at Center retreats, presenters shared the latest information about changes taking place in education across the nation. We were given time to talk about our programs, to plan creative strategies for our classes, and to pool our experiences. An opportunity to develop goals together and to share experiences is, I believe, the second step in the making of a professional—for it is only through a sense of group power and purpose that any profession can advance.
The third step in the development of professionalism is the recognition that a profession is not static and the belief that continued growth and learning are essential. This step, too, I realized through my work with the Teacher Cadet Program and the Center. During my four years in the program, I faced a number of growth and leadership challenges, each causing me to examine my practices and to continue to develop my skills. After teaching the class for only one year, I was asked to share my experiences with a group of newly selected teachers.
Over the next three years, I presented sessions on new curriculum activities, served on statewide committees, and assisted new teachers in setting up their programs. All of these experiences increased my confidence in my own credentials and awakened a desire to be an instrumental part of the changes in education taking place across my state. In addition, I have begun to take the final step toward professionalism: becoming self-directed in moving toward the betterment of the profession.

Power to Shape the Future

The South Carolina Center for Teacher Recruitment has been far-reaching in its effects on education in this state. Not only has the Center begun a statewide recruitment effort that is attracting large numbers of bright, energetic, and eager young people to careers in teaching, but it has also generated a second, and perhaps equally important, movement toward the professionalization of teachers in South Carolina. By offering us time and support to plan and implement changes, by providing a network to build group power, by giving us opportunities to continue to refine skills and gain knowledge, and by encouraging self-direction and leadership, the Center has built a cadre of teachers who believe in themselves, each other, and their collective power as professionals to change the shape of the future.

Beth Havens has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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