Money has never been teaching's primary allure

Comment

Unfortunately, admiration and respect for educators has become as scarce as new physics teachers, participants said at the "Dialogue on the Teacher Shortage" at Bowie State University.

October 24, 1999|By Norris West

IT DOESN'T take a scholar to figure out that good teachers are becoming hard to find. It's simple math.

Maryland will need an additional 11,000 teachers by 2001 but state colleges and universities are producing only 2,500 education graduates a year.

And half of the Maryland graduates have left in recent years to teach elsewhere. The deficit of 8,500 over two years is prompting systems to broaden recruiting efforts outside the state.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening termed this situation a crisis during his "Dialogue on Teacher Shortage" with education professionals, school board members and others at Bowie State University last Wednesday.

To underscore the point, School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick pointed out that the state's 22 colleges and universities didn't yield a single graduate in physics education last year and only one in computer-science education.

Anne Arundel school officials are having to venture farther and farther to find teaching candidates. The system's employees went on 80 recruiting trips outside Maryland last year.

Maryland has some of the toughest standards for certifying and re-certifying teachers, Dr. Grasmick said, which doesn't make the search easier. The high standards should pay off eventually.

But the question remains: Why should top-performing college students choose careers in education? A math major might start at $28,000 a year as a teacher, Dr. Grasmick said, but could easily make $45,000 in private industry. And the stature of a teacher is less than it was.

Once a career of choice

As some at the Bowie conference pointed out, teaching used to be the career of choice for many women and African-Americans.

"In the African-American community, being a teacher was the highest goal that one could aim for. That has changed quite a bit," said Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham. "There is a message we have to deliver about the profession and why someone would enjoy working in the profession."

Unfortunately, admiration and respect for educators has become as scarce as new physics teachers, participants said.

They talked about reaching students as early as middle school to encourage them to consider going into teaching. A Prince George's County delegate, James W. Hubbard, suggested that teachers make a pitch for their profession on school career days.

But others said students will avoid the education field as long as they sense that their favorite instructors are treated with contempt or indifference, or if they see too many burned-out teachers.

Wednesday's conversation kept coming back to the need to provide more money. This makes sense.

Maryland has taken some steps to provide incentives. The HOPE scholarship program pays tuition for students in state education majors.

And the General Assembly passed a bill this year to provide tax credits and stipends for teachers and additional pay for teaching in troubled schools. Higher overall pay, a faster rise up the compensation ladder and more bonuses were other suggestions the conferees raised.

All of this is well-taken. But no one has ever gotten wealthy teaching. Top graduates aren't likely to ever choose education careers if money is their prime motivation.

Tomorrow's teachers, like those of yesteryear, have to want to teach.

People such as the 26-year-old linguist with three degrees and a high-paying Defense Department job who will switch careers to teach in Baltimore. She wants to make a difference.

She also happens to be Dr. Parham's daughter.

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

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