Teaching as a life's work, or a half-life's work?


June 13, 1999|By Norris West

SOMETIMES IT IS difficult to distinguish between how things used to be and how we think they used to be.

For instance, it seems to me that most school teachers used to spend all their working years in the classroom, leaving only when they reached Social Security age. Their mission in life was singular.

Perhaps it only seemed that way. I'm sure there have always been those who have taught diligently for a number of years and left the profession to explore other interests.

Nonetheless, teachers in Anne Arundel County and other area jurisdictions are opting out of the profession in increasing numbers. For the most part, they are baby boomers retiring young enough to start second careers.

The departures alone pose a major challenge for public schools. The scenario is made worse in Maryland because the state's colleges and universities are not producing enough education graduates to fill the void. Competition for quality teachers is rising among area jurisdictions as they scramble for the dwindling number of graduates.

In Baltimore County, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said this spring that officials haven't noticed a teacher shortage yet, "but we know it's coming."

Anne Arundel and Howard counties offer $1,000 bonuses to new teachers in areas with "critical needs." In Anne Arundel, that need is special education.

19th of 24 systems

And some jurisdictions are raising teacher salaries, trying to stay a step ahead of -- or keep from falling too far behind -- their neighbors. The $27,083 starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree in Anne Arundel public schools will rise by 3 percent the next school year. Anne Arundel now ranks 19th among the 24 school systems for beginning teachers, although it is in the top 10 for educators with five years of experience.

Maryland's HOPE scholarship program aims to attract more young people to the profession. But officials are venturing even farther in the search for good young minds to develop good younger minds.

Sharon F. Doyle, Anne Arundel schools' supervisor of personnel, says employees have taken 80 trips to colleges and job fairs outside Maryland this year. They have visited all four border states and New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida and Tennessee.

Ms. Doyle has divided the trips with human resources specialists, administrators and central office staffers to find candidates to fill 500 teaching positions for next fall.

They go to job fairs and schools such as Vanderbilt University in Nashville with an upbeat, $25,000 videotape set to the music of Whitney Houston to sell Anne Arundel schools and the benefits of living between the nation's capital and the city with the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. (Yes, the Orioles are rotten this year, but they're not the minor league Nashville Pirates.)

The video shows a young teacher driving from his West Virginia home past area landmarks to his new job in Anne Arundel County, clearly satisfied with his new surroundings. Everyone in the video, including Anne Arundel Community College President Martha Smith, praises the school system, as officials put on their best face.

Ms. Doyle has been encouraged by the results.

"When we went to Vanderbilt, we hoped that we would have 10 people express interest in Anne Arundel," she says. "In fact, we had to turn people away."

Although the effort to lure teachers sounds promising, officials are going to have to repeat this for years to come as other teachers leave the system in midlife for a pension and a chance at a second career.

Anne Arundel schools are in the midst of a five-year period in which officials expect about half of all teachers to retire.

Ms. Doyle, a former teacher and principal, notes that more and more teachers are taking advantage of retirement benefits because numerous opportunities are available to people in their 50s.

But we still have those who are a throwback to the old days, like Evelyn Svoboda at Crofton Elementary, the subject of a recent profile by Sun reporter Kris Antonelli. Ms. Svoboda is retiring after 30 years of teaching to do volunteer work, spend time with her grandchildren and enjoy her Ocean City beach house.

Let's see how long her successor will last.

Norris P. West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County. His e-mail address is norris@baltsun.com.

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