Wanted: 6,000 teachers

August 01, 2005

LIKE MANY states, Maryland is busy hiring teachers before schools start in the next several weeks. An estimated 6,000 new teachers are needed - to replace those who have retired, transferred or left to pursue other interests and to fill openings created by new or expanding schools.

The need is particularly acute for teachers of math, science, foreign languages and special education.

Since Maryland produces only about 2,500 teacher candidates a year, there's a perpetual need to provide significant incentives to draw teachers from other states and even other countries. While the state isn't doing badly, it could do better.

The teacher scramble has become more intense nationwide because the federal No Child Left Behind law requires a highly qualified teacher in key subject areas by 2006. For the important work that teachers do, they are still underpaid in many jurisdictions. But that is changing somewhat as the demand for qualified teachers has increased. Now, many teachers are being pursued like top-notch athletes, with signing bonuses, stipends for those with advanced certification and other incentives.

Many districts also provide new teachers with mentors and other supports. And among more experienced teachers, a strong retirement system has become a big part of the calculation whether to stay or go.

When it comes to salaries and pensions, Maryland is barely holding its own. A 2003 report for the State Board of Education on ensuring teacher quality found that Maryland "does not compete well" with neighboring states on salaries. In addition, the teacher retirement system ranks among the worst in the nation and needs comprehensive reform.

Beyond competing for existing teachers, Maryland needs to become more aggressive in attracting people from other professions into teaching. Right now a program that provides training and certification for those who want to make a career change is underutilized. Bringing more non-teachers into the profession may require increased marketing and additional supports. It will take a combination of financial and other incentives to entice those who have the calling to follow their hearts into the state's classrooms.

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