GREAT teachers aren't born.

They're nurtured and developed. So I'm disheartened by recent articles and editorials that distort the "teacher equity" issue and imply that Philadelphia lacks qualified, talented teachers to provide the city's children the best education possible.

Philadelphia has some of the best, most creative and dedicated teachers in the country. Our teachers have degrees (most earn master's) in the subjects they teach.

They pass rigorous national exams to earn a teaching certificate and local tests given by the school district. They must earn 24 graduate-level credits and an average of 36 hours of continuing education annually to maintain certification. They pursue doctorates, certification in multiple subjects and National Board Certification, the highest credential available.

They don't expect medals, but they'd be more likely to remain in the district if they weren't hammered with headlines and comments by their employer about how the worst teachers are assigned to teach the poorest children.

The reality is that the pool of experienced teachers in Philadelphia is shrinking because city teachers earn less money, work in more challenging environments, have fewer resources and get less respect and support than suburban teachers.

Middle schools have the hardest time recruiting and keeping qualified teachers, resulting in a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers there. Staffing middle schools with certified teachers is a national challenge that can't be fixed by rewriting union contracts or revamping hiring and placement systems.

To do that, we must identify schools with high turnover and ask teachers what would induce them to stay. From the feedback the PFT gets, lack of instructional leadership, mentoring and resources; large, unmanageable classes, and safety and disciplinary concerns are largely to blame.

To improve retention, we need:

* Better pre-service education and apprenticeship programs.

* Effective principals who provide instructional guidance and encouragement.

* A rigorous curriculum with meaningful professional development.

* Effective mentoring programs.

* Smaller classes.

* Better working conditions, safe schools and adequate books, technology and supplies.

* Incentives for teachers who mentor other teachers, work in challenging schools, accept additional responsibilities or complete high-level training.

The key to getting a mix of new and veteran educators in middle schools where turnover is highest is to give teachers the resources, respect and support they need to help children succeed.

Great teachers come in many forms - new teachers bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm, and veterans offer experience, advanced education and training. We must do more to retain both. *

Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.