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Alabama Needs More Teachers

February 10, 2007

Alabama Needs More Teachers

 

We all know how important it is to have good teachers. A good teacher can motivate, inspire, and have lasting influence on a child’s life.  Yet many of today’s children are faced with a problem:  a lack of teachers.  

 

With each passing year, fewer young people are going into teaching. Although teacher shortages are occurring nationwide, the problem has grown substantially large in our state.  Of 100 school systems that responded to a survey conducted by the Alabama Department of Education, 98 reported that they have a teacher shortage.

 

Many systems generally report teacher shortages for areas such as math and science.  For the first time ever, several systems reported that they are lacking elementary teachers, an area that has been traditionally easy to fill.

 

The reasons for the teacher drop-off are simple:  teachers have more work than ever and are not compensated nearly enough. Our teachers are working 60-hour weeks, are buried under mountains of paperwork, and are being paid an average of $31,000 per year

 

The days of teachers just being responsible for lesson plans and grading papers are gone. Nowadays, teachers are expected to comply with “No Child Left Behind,” report for standardized tests, handle children with special needs, and take care of sick children.

 

Many teachers are feeling the strain and leaving the profession. In fact, a national study shows that almost half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. Too many good people are leaving teaching to pursue other careers, and we cannot continue to let this happen.

 

We’ve been working to improve teacher conditions, but far too many school systems lack adequate support systems such as librarians, counselors, special needs teachers, and school nurses. In a school with no nurse, the teacher becomes the primary care provider for a sick child. The added responsibility takes away from the rest of the class.  Teachers should be responsible for instructing, not for monitoring food allergies and dispensing medications.

 

Another way to improve teaching conditions is by decreasing class size. Too many teachers have combined or overcrowded classes, which is bad for both instruction and discipline.  Children get less individual attention, and teachers get added stress and increased workload, and are ultimately less effective.

 

Encouraging teacher mentor programs is another great way to help keep new teachers in the classroom. Programs such as pairing new teachers with experienced teachers create a good support system that not only prepares better teachers, but also encourages longevity in the profession.

 

If current trends continue, the teacher shortage problem is only going to get worse in the coming years.  Many teachers are starting to retire, while the state student population grows every year. In fact, within 10 years, nearly 30% of our teachers will have been teaching for 25 years.  Who will take the jobs when they retire?

 

Homegrown teaching programs are another effective way to attract new teachers.  Homegrown programs identify gifted students while they are in high school and offer to help pay for college, with the condition that the student will return to their hometown to teach after college.

 

Far too many college graduates, even those with education degrees, are bypassing teaching and taking other jobs.  We must attract new folks to the profession, and that starts with adequate compensation.

 

Teachers are the backbone of our schools. Although the pay will never equal the work, we must do everything possible to ensure that education salaries are at least competitive with similar fields. While teachers have received several pay raises in recent years, their salaries are still substantially lower than other professions. For too long, we’ve worked to keep teachers’ salaries in line with inflation. Now, we need to strive to make their pay comparable with other professions.

 

Someone once said, “A teacher affects eternity:  he can never tell where his influence stops.” If we expect teachers to have a significant impact on the lives on our children, shouldn’t we do everything possible to ensure that the lasting influence is a positive one? We must work harder to attract new people to the profession, and to keep the quality teachers that we already have; our children’s future depends on it.