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Looming Teacher Shortage

This article is more than 15 years old.

More than 600 teachers, principals, and superintendents from around the country are wrapping up their conference in Boston Tuesday. Their focus has been on the recruitment and retention of new teachers.

That's because school systems are seeing record numbers of baby boomers retiring from teaching at the same time as younger teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate.

Education experts say it's creating a shortage of skilled, dedicated teachers. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov has this report.


GAIL DAVIS: Good morning Amy, how are you? AJ is putting the first word problem on the board and can you put the second on the board?

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Brookline High School math teacher Gail Davis is retiring after teaching for forty years. But she's worried about the younger colleagues she leaves behind.

DAVIS: I'm a creature of the 60's that's when I went to school and women coming out of college became teachers. That was the norm.
I was fortune because was a good fit and it's something I've been able to do professionally for my life and love. Today its wide open and people can pursue all kinds of careers and unfortunately teaching gets relegated to something that's less ruminative doesn't have the status.

BRADY-MYEROV: In the next five years the state projects 21,400 educators will retire, a 19% increase over the last five years.

TOM CARROLL: We're headed over the next five years for a perfect storm if you will.

BRADY-MYEROV: Tom Carroll is president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

CARROLL: On the front end we are losing an increasing number of teachers but yes you're right within 5 years the baby boom generation of teachers which is half the teacher in mass will be heading for the exits so we'll be hemorrhaging for teaching talent on both ends.

BRADY-MYEROV: Carroll stops short of calling it a looming teacher shortage because every classroom will be staffed. But school districts with a high number of waivers, which allow teachers to work without state certification, will have more under qualified teachers. Districts such as Boston, Fall River, and Springfield already have a large number of uncertified teachers, especially in hard to fill areas such as special education, math and science. And its harder to keep teachers in urban areas, says Jon Saphier founder of Teachers 21, a non-profit devoted to recruiting, retaining and developing new teachers.

JON SAPHIER: Our cities in mass lose over 50% of their new teachers in the first 3 years either they leave teaching altogether or they leave to seek pastures where the support for their work it's going to be stronger.

BRADY-MYEROV: Saphier says it costs a school system between 25 and $30,000 to recruit and hire one new teacher. It would be cheaper, he adds, to give new teachers more mentoring and support.

SAPHIER: Because we don't recognize that teaching is as complex and sophisticated as law or engineer or medicine we throw people into the classroom with only a university degree.

BRADY-MYEROV: Saphier says things like workshops for beginning teachers, emotional and personal counseling and classroom observation create a supportive environment.

It's worked in Lawrence public schools, where a teacher recruitment and mentor program has reversed retention rates to the point where now 90% of new teachers stay in the classroom. And two years ago Lowell, which struggles with the state's highest level of English as a second language learners, started the Lowell Teacher Academy, a mentor program led by Mary Sterling.

MARY STERLING: For us its a very sophisticated role where you are partnering an adult learner thru a very difficult phase of their career the beginning of their career so we provide really strong support for the mentors themselves.

BRADY-MYEROV: Gail Davis, the teacher who's retiring from Brookline high this year, started a mentoring program in her school six years ago when she became aware of the wave of retirements.

DAVIS: Unless you continue to get a really qualified teacher pool and you're willing to pay for that, you're going to get what you pay for. You're going to have people who go see all kinds of career positions that are worth more.

BRADY-MYEROV: All new teachers at Brookline high shadow veteran teachers, attend monthly seminars, and are observed in their classroom. Educators say teacher retention is crucial because research shows that students whose teachers have five or more years of experiences perform better.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov

The audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site after 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

This program aired on March 27, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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