The coming American teacher shortage is well-documented. A third of today's teachers are expected to retire in the next decade. At the same time, enrollments are increasing and some states are mandating smaller class sizes, which means more teachers. The US Department of Education estimates 2.2 million new teachers will be needed before 2010.
But there is another side to this blackboard. College students are showing fresh interest in teaching careers. A national survey of freshmen by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles last year found a higher percentage choosing teaching as their career of choice than any year since the early 1970s. Enrollments in undergraduate and graduate education programs are up.
A group called Teach for America, which signs up college graduates to teach for two years in low-income communities, is receiving thousands of applications for its 500 openings. More of the applicants are from prestigious colleges and universities.
The question, as always, is whether the best talent will stay in the classroom, given the still-minimal pay in many parts of the country and the challenge of keeping 20 or 30 youngsters fully engaged with learning.
Some significant strides have been made over a decade and a half of education reform in America. Many teachers have more professional standing, and their pay more nearly matches the importance of their work. But more is needed.
For example, added thought should be given to how teachers are trained. The emphasis should shift from courses in pedagogy to courses that provide a strong foundation in the subjects people will actually be teaching. Once on the job, teachers should be free to explore new ways of presenting subjects; they shouldn't be tethered to preparing students for state or national tests. If teachers instill a breadth of knowledge and sound thinking skills, their students should do fine on the tests.
Teaching has always been a career that can grab a person's interest. In the Monitor's columns, a high school teacher recently told how an unexpected transfer to a seventh-grade classroom rejuvenated her awareness of students' basic needs. Another teacher told how he helped a boy he once flunked finally get a diploma.
Such experiences hint at the deeper rewards of teaching. It's heartening that young people are still attracted by them.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society