SIT DOWN with teachers who have been in the classroom since the early '50s and even the '40s and you will hear a disturbing number say they would choose a different profession if they were coming out of college now. Low pay, compared with other jobs, is only part of the reason. Teaching was held in higher regard in those days, they argue, and that meant a number of unofficial "perks." There was immediate credit at department stores, perhaps some free groceries, the quick assumption by landlords that teachers would be good tenants, neighbors and so on. Teachers were people we wanted to welcome, and we let them know that.

In Prince George's County, in a state that will soon need three times the number of teachers likely to be produced by Maryland colleges and universities, those days are being remembered with good reason. Prince George's County businesses are sponsoring an effort to offer new teacher recruits apartments with no security deposit and a free month's rent, below-market-rate consumer and car loans, fee-less credit cards and 20 percent discounts at restaurants. Business executives also plan to accompany Prince George's school recruiters on trips to meet graduating teachers.

It makes sense for a number of reasons. Because more and more sharp minds do not consider the teaching profession, there will be greater competition around the country to get the brightest new teachers and to keep the best of those already on the job. The private sector has good reason to assume some share of the recruiting effort. County- based real estate brokers and landlords want to be able to tell young families that the schools are competitive; it is definitely a part of their pitch when the school system shines. Any employer hoping to lure good young talent to his firm has the same vested interest in the strength of the school system and the quality of its teachers.

There could be other benefits as well. In recent years we have seen the quality of education in this country questioned, and teachers have felt much of the heat. Morale is not very high. An increasing number of states -- reasonably, in our judgment -- want to require teachers to take competency tests, an idea that many good teachers find demeaning. It is time that communities did more to show their belief in the importance of teaching. Wooing them in the manner sponsored by the businesses in Prince George's might be an excellent first step. If it is successful, it's a safe bet that other jurisdictions will do the same.