Recession and troubled national mood prompt thousands to quit corporate careers. Stephen Phillips reports.
ThE economic recession and post-September 11 soul-searching are tempting thousands into teaching.
Officials across America report a deluge of applications for teacher training, particularly from those seeking to change from corporate jobs.
New York City has received more than 5,000 applications from professionals wanting to retrain as teachers, compared with about 1,250 this time last year. Applications for similar programmes in Washington DC and Kansas City have risen by 45 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.
Applications for Columbia University's Teachers College, the US's largest graduate teacher-training institution, are up 23 per cent.
Many recruits are plotting a return to the classroom after being laid off. "People see teaching as a stable profession," said Ellen Moir, executive director for the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where applications have surged by more than 15 per cent.
In Chicago, the number of people enlisting as substitute supply teachers since September has quadrupled, compared to the corresponding period last year.
Last year's terrorist attacks in the US also seem to have prompted a change of heart for many people . "There is renewed interest in service after September 11," said Dr Christine Persico, director of enrolment services at Columbia's teacher college.
"People want to do something that really matters," said Wendy Kopp, president of Teach for America, whose programme, which places graduates in deprived schools for two-year stints, has seen applications triple.
The influx is timely. The US must find 2.4 million new teachers by 2012. Half of today's teachers will retire in the next decade and the pupil population is tipped to swell by 2 million to 54m by 2008.
Santa Cruz and neighboring Silicon Valley teacher-training institutions at Stanford and San Jose State universities also report robust interest from graduates in maths and science, subjects where staff shortfalls are most acute.
But with one in five new recruits leaving the profession within three years and newcomer attrition running at 50 per cent in cities within five years, schools must try harder to hang on to existing staff, Ms Moir warned.
"If we keep giving recruits the hardest assignments in the toughest schools, the high turnover will continue," she said.
Resurgent teacher recruitment is also due to more efforts to attract staff, said Ms Kopp.
"Recruitment is more strategic and aggressive - three years ago school districts were just waiting for resumes (CVs)," she said.
Chicago has more than doubled teacher recruitment since a promotional campaign in 1998. Advertisements on the city's public transport system and airport exhort people to sign up as "educational professionals", said Carlos Ponce, chief human resources officer for Chicago's state schools. "We wanted to get away from the image of teachers as baby-sitters," he said.
In New York, advertisements in subway trains and newspapers are aimed at disaffected professionals. "No one goes back 10 years later to thank a middle manager," reads one slogan.