Who Will Teach the Children?

Why would anyone want to become a teacher? Aside from low pay, poor working conditions, low social status, having to pay for their own office supplies, and being held singly responsible for the failure of hundreds of thousands of young people and the failure of keeping America globally competitive, they are now being told that thousands of them will be losing their jobs. Today, teachers are leaving the field faster than Schools of Education can train their replacements.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Predicting the Need for Newly Hired Teachers in the United States to 2008-09, depending on the assumptions made, projections for the number of newly hired public school teachers needed by 2008-09 ranges from 1.7 million to 2.7 million to replace those retiring. Since 46 percent of all educators leave the field within five years, that means we need to hire between 2,482,000 and 3,942,000. Currently there are 3.7 million full time elementary and secondary public school teachers engaged in classroom instruction.

It used to be possible to get these additional bodies from those females graduating from college. In the past the main occupations for women were either secretaries, nurses or teachers. Today, according to the NCES, 77 percent of all public school teachers are female and 56 percent of them are over the age of 40. Forty percent of the current public school teaching force expects not to be teaching five years from now. According to the Profile of Teachers in the U.S., 2005, published by the National Center for Education Information, most teachers "teach primarily because they want to work with young people." But that is changing according to C. Emily Feistritzer, President of the National Center for Education Information, "With the rapidly aging population of teaching who are retiring at increasing rates and are increasingly being replaced by adults coming into teaching from other careers, who view education and teaching quite differently."

Our K-12 teaching force is aging rapidly. The proportion of K-12 teachers who are 50 years of age and older has risen from one in four (24 percent) in 1996 to 42 percent in 2005. The percentage of teacher in their 30s has dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2005. The proportion of teachers in their 40s has also dropped from 44 percent in 1996 to 26 percent in 2005. In other words, there is not a cadre of mentors for those people who will be entering the field.

It will be difficult getting additional bodies, men or women into teaching because of low salaries. NCES report that the average salary for public school teachers in 2008-2009 was $53,910, about 2 percent higher than 10 years earlier, after adjustment for inflation.

Business people measure their success on two factors -- the return on investment and the value added. The fewer dollars they spend and more money generated, the greater their profit. Value added equals how much revenue is added with each step in the process. The business community apparently has had a difficult time teaching these concepts to some governors. The present politicians are neither considering return on investment nor value added as they make drastic cuts in education. Apparently their shortsighted, short-term cuts doesn't bother their long-term thinking. By cutting education today, the long-term effects will not be felt until they are no longer in office. And besides, the public has a long-term memory loss. Besides the legacy they leave, the next generation of politicians can always blame the problems they face on their predecessors. It's the ideal win-win situation for today's politicians and the only losers are the children, their parents and American society.

As long as men in government determine the salaries and working conditions of women (and men) in education, teaching will never pay well.