To the head of the class

THE teaching profession has come in for more than its share of pressure and criticism in recent years - from the ``back to the basics'' push fueled by colleges and employers to growing demands from vocal parents who want to delete certain textbook materials or argue over teaching methods. Many feel their own high school or college education amply qualifies them to criticize and reform the public schools. The frequency and sharpness of such arrows has discouraged a number of would-be teachers. Thus it is especially heartening to note recent signs of a resurgence regarding the status and value of teaching.

Enrollment in schools of teacher education has been sharply up all over the country in the last two years.

All major universities now have special and increasingly popular programs for individuals in mid-career, from engineers to businessmen, who have decided to shift into education. Indeed, by some estimates most math and science teaching vacancies in the public schools could be filled by such new recruits.

The newest National Education Association survey released earlier this month on the status of teaching indicates that the salary and experience of the average teacher has improved markedly. For the first time more than half of the nation's public school teachers have advanced degrees.

Yet despite such positive signs, the well-publicized teacher shortage of many years' standing persists. Almost half of the nation's public school teachers are only 15 years from retirement.

Particularly distressing is a decline in the number of young blacks training to teach. The appeal of higher salaries in other professions requiring similar academic training is strong.

The new competency tests now required in the majority of states have also discouraged a number of college-trained blacks, who perhaps more than their white counterparts feel they cannot afford to risk failure. The share of black public school teachers in Georgia, recently accounting for more than 25 percent of the total, is expected to fall to 6 to 8 percent by the end of this decade at the very time when the black enrollment in the public schools is sharply on the rise. Obviously such a disparity cannot be allowed.

Imaginative ways must be found to recruit more blacks into teaching and provide incentives to keep them there. Fortunately, the topic occupies a front-and-center position at most professional education meetings these days.

The overall teacher shortage is largely in specialized fields such as bilingual education and mathematics. Better information must be given students, while in training, as to where the vacancies exist.

It is easy in a world where TV can focus our attention almost singularly on such topics as the Iran-contra affair or the United States reflagging of Kuwaiti ships in the Persian Gulf to forget the central importance of such institutions as the public schools and those training this nation's most promising resource.

The nation's teachers deserve a larger vote of confidence. They are earning it.

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