Attracting Talented Young People to be Teachers

In following the Akiba and LeTendre (2009) framework for coherent teacher policy, we begin our discussion with the importance of attracting talented young people into the teaching profession. Although this issue did not emerge systematically from our Indian or Mexican data, in Tanzania the challenge of recruiting talented young people to become teachers was discussed in nearly all of our interviews as well as in formal and informal discussions with colleagues. Our interviews, combined with related literature, provide strong and consistent evidence that Tanzanian teachers enjoy very little social status and recognition for the work that they do. According to previous research, recommending that a child become a teacher may be taken as an insult rather than praise (Mkumbo, 2012). Respondents in our interviews remembered earlier days when this was not the case. A teacher educator in Dar es Salaam contrasted the current situation with the high status accorded to teachers during the leadership of former president Julius Nyerere (1960-1985), who was referred to as “Mwalimu,” or Teacher. The respondent observed that as a result of an effort to provide all Tanzanian children with access to primary education, entry requirements were lowered to recruit more teachers into the system. This effort diminished both the status and working conditions of teachers. The teacher educator observed that at present, virtually every aspect of teaching in Tanzania is at a low level—status, salaries, entry qualifications, and working conditions. A representative of the national teachers union similarly recalled the 1960s, when teachers were respected and teaching was a respectable occupation like a medical doctor or clergy. However, this is no longer the case. According to the union representative, “no one wants to be a teacher.”

Low status combined with difficult working conditions and perceived low salaries make teaching an undesirable occupation from the perspective of both young people and their parents. A head teacher in rural Arusha Region also told us, “The parents and the society see teachers as not a good job.” When asked whether young teachers in his area aspired to be teachers, a ward education officer in Arusha observed:

No. They don’t want to become a teacher. They say many children will never like to be teachers, especially because what they see is ‘I was taught by the teacher and the teacher is still there, but now I am a doctor; I am a professor. I have a better life, but the teachers are still on the same thing.’

In health, maybe the nurses and the doctors, they get more salary and benefits like allowances, seminars, but teachers, they don’t have any seminars or any allowance ... Many people would consider not to be teachers, but something else.

National education officials we interviewed discussed the impact of the low status of teaching on the quality of those who do enter the profession. These officials reported that the teaching profession does not attract “high achievers.” Young people who are eligible for a higher status or betterpaying job will take it. Those who do choose teaching often enter the profession because it is the only source of employment available to them. In other words teaching is a profession of “last resort.” An educational researcher observed:

If you can’t become anything, you become a teacher. If you can’t get admitted to other professions here, you become a teacher. Usually, those who become teachers are Division 3, those who have failed, and so on. Once you become a teacher, the aim is to get out of the profession as soon as possible.

The low status of teachers can also negatively affect the motivation of current teachers and reduce their commitment and effort in the classroom. This may be especially true for teachers of marginalized children, who often must cope with very difficult working conditions.

In Mexico, we found a generally different sentiment related to teachers and the teaching profession. Several respondents praised the talents and intellect of Mexican teachers, arguing that the quality of Mexican education is low despite the abilities of teachers. A representative of a non-governmental organization who had worked in Mexican education for years observed, “The more I work with teachers, the less I understand why we have such problems in education.” This respondent explained that Mexican teachers are committed to their work and consistently seek opportunities to improve. A researcher in Chiapas echoed the belief that Mexican teachers want more training and preparation, observing that the new generation of teachers is better trained and prepared than previous generations. However, we did find concern in Mexico related to the profile of those who teach the most marginalized children. Evidence suggests that these teachers are less experienced or qualified than the average teachers. A national education official in Mexico observed:

Historically, marginalized children, rural children, children who work, and children who are disabled are early on out of school and while they are in school they have been served by non-professional teachers. Some of them are fantastic people of enormous value but they have not yet been professionals.

While the overall status of teaching profession varied across our study countries, we did identify uniform concerns related to the quality of teachers entering the system. These concerns were manifested primarily through calls to ensure the quality of incoming teachers through the use of examinations or certifications, as we discuss further below. The status of teaching notwithstanding, it appeared that in all of our study countries the young adults who entered teacher training, and eventually the profession, had received inadequate or uneven prior training, which sets the stage for challenges of uneven teacher distribution.

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