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[Susan notes: Let's hope that Kristof reads the letters. A mea culpa is needed.

I rather love the idea that someone who has wracked up lots of frequent flyer miles is qualified to teach geography.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

As a public school teacher who has both jumped through certification hoops and taken part in excellent teacher-education programs, I am angered and saddened by Nicholas D. Kristof's conclusion in "Opening Classroom Doors" (column, April 30).

He writes, "Maybe it helps to be brilliant and to have studied teaching, but mostly it is personality." No, Mr. Kristof, it isn't.

While charisma certainly plays some part in teaching, the day-to-day work, year after year, involves a host of specific skills and abilities.

Lowering standards won't get better teachers into the classroom. Raising the public valuation of teachers through lower class sizes and higher salaries will.

Annie Thoms

The writer is an English teacher at Stuyvesant High School.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof is sure that former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the actress Meryl Streep would "dazzle the surliest student." I don't know why he's so confident.

In my 15 years of teaching, from the South Bronx to the suburbs of Boston, I've found that there's a lot to learn about managing and motivating students that has nothing to do with success in professions outside the classroom.

I agree completely that barriers to entry into teaching should be low but so should expectations for untrained career switchers who move to public school classrooms.

Jonathan Bassett

The writer is chairman of the history and social sciences department at Newton North High School.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof is probably correct that Meryl Streep could teach drama or Colin L. Powell social studies at a school like Exeter without studying how to teach beforehand. They would have a taxing first year but a fair chance of success because they would be supported with mentoring, resources and small classes.

But the conditions and odds would be quite different if they were placed for their first teaching job into racially isolated city schools, without adequate support or resources, where they would be teaching kids who need highly skilled teachers.

My dissertation at Harvard (1990) examining 30 years of research about preparing teachers for urban schools concluded that teaching in most city schools is different from what one does at a school like Exeter.

Lois Weiner

The writer, a professor of elementary and secondary education at New Jersey City University, is the author of "Urban Teaching: The Essentials."

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof hit the mark with his column about obstacles in the form of certification to teaching.

Nearing retirement, I thought that it would be easy to find a teaching position where my 30 years of international banking experience could be valued. Having traveled to most countries around the world, I thought that I'd be qualified at least to teach geography or economics.

Every inquiry was met with the same response: no certification, no job. I hope that more inspired minds will recognize the resource waste being perpetuated by this policy.

Gerald Pane

Amagansett, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Recruiting and preparing excellent teachers is tough, but a program like Teach for America, 85 percent of whose graduates leave New York City's public schools within four years, is no silver bullet.

Nor is it helpful to cite experiences in our most elite private schools, where teaching conditions are a universe away from our urban public schools, as proof of anything.

The story is elsewhere: scholarship from Caroline Hoxby at Harvard demonstrates that three-quarters of the decline in teacher quality is due to wage compression and the absence of merit pay. Meanwhile, as a longtime advocate of stronger teacher preparation programs, I can assure your readers that we are incorporating the most rigorous research on the effective teaching of literacy and mathematics, repeatedly assessing our student teachers' performance in school classrooms and preparing them to use test data to drive improved instruction.

David Steiner

Dean, School of Education

Hunter College, CUNY

multiple authors

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