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Spring 2004
Exodus
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This type of networking helped Florez-Muro over a rough patch in her career. Several years ago, she says, she had a conflict with a principal who she felt was treating her unprofessionally and not giving her leeway to employ her own creative ideas. The worse Florez-Muro felt she was being treated, the more she doubted her own competency. She might have thrown in the towel had it not been for colleagues who assured her that she was indeed doing a good job.

The conventional wisdom holds that burgeoning enrollments, smaller class sizes and retirements have led to an acute shortage of teachers. But researchers have found that the real crisis is not one of supply but retention. Teachers are abandoning their classrooms at an alarming rate.

Florez-Muro stuck it out. The principal has since left the school.

At UCLA's TEP, graduates are plugged into a network of urban educators. Groups of alumni meet once a month to talk about new developments in the field or grapple with problems that arise at work. Some become mentors or subject-matter experts for teachers who are just starting out. It's an important way for teachers to feel that they are part of a professional community and that their skills and experience are valued in society, says Jody Z. Priselac '74, Ed.D. '99, executive director of Center X.

Mindful of the kinds of pressures that drove Gallandt from teaching, Isken also does all she can to create a supportive and stimulating environment for her new crop of teachers, many of whom come out of TEP. Among them are Diana Manuel M.Ed. '02 and Bernie Sabad '99, M.Ed. '02, who, with colleague Rosalinda Barajas, team-teach a class of 58 first graders.

The three teachers like the arrangement. Each has different strengths, so they all depend on each other for support. They also know that they can turn to Isken for help without feeling like they're admitting inadequacy.

"Traditionally in teaching, the teacher goes in and closes the door. In some ways, that is sort of what's attractive in education — you're in business for yourself," Isken says. "But the negative part is that it's impossible to deal with everything that teachers face on their own. Here, we're a team and you never have to face anything on your own."

That kind of thinking might help to turn the tide and return teachers to the classroom, where they are needed. Educators and school leaders concerned with these issues know that reversal is critical to the ongoing health of the nation's education system. And, they acknowledge, it is something that needs to happen sooner rather than later. In the coming decade, America's schools will need 2.2 million new teachers.

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