08/24/04 — Teacher dearth called a crisis by study group

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Teacher dearth called a crisis by study group

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on August 24, 2004 2:02 PM

North Carolina must take greater action to recruit and retain teachers in public schools or face "an impending crisis," says a report being released today.

A rapidly increasing school-age population, class-size reduction, and high turnover in some districts have escalated the problem in recent years, according to the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.

Teachers specializing in math, science, special education and foreign languages are the hardest to recruit, the report said.

"Sharply increasing the supply of teachers is a critical part of solving the teacher shortage, but just producing more teachers without doing better at retaining the teachers we have has been compared to pouring water into a leaky bucket," said Mike McLaughlin, editor of the center's North Carolina Insight magazine, which published the report.

Local officials agree the report reflects the situation in Wayne County, but say many programs have been implemented in recent years to strengthen teacher retention.

Olivia Pierce, executive director for community relations, said that in addition to securing teachers in math, science and special education, this year there has been the added pressure of filling positions for guidance counselors and media coordinators.

"Right now, we have three guidance counselor vacancies and need two media coordinators," she said. The need is determined by school enrollment, and the jobs are a requirement for accreditation, she said.

The school system continues to rely heavily on retirees to assist in filling some of the vacancies, she said, but there are also ongoing efforts to expand the recruitment field out of state and out of the country.

"We continue to use Visiting International Faculty, VIF, which is particularly helpful in the area of foreign languages," she said.

The organization locates teachers from other countries who are interested in teaching in the United States. Typically, educators in the VIF program stay in America for three years before returning to their native country.

The goal is not just to have a teacher in place, Mrs. Pierce said, but to make sure they have access to every opportunity to the tools needed for the job.

"Inexperienced teachers are not equipped," she said. "We have a superb mentoring program for new teachers, along with staff development and training opportunities."

She said that every new teacher, whether fresh out of college or coming from another profession while acquiring teaching credentials, are paired with a veteran teacher.

"I think we do an exceptional job in helping new teachers become acclimated to the classroom," she said.

To support those just starting out in the profession, last year the school system implemented the "Beginning Teacher of the Year" award. It also provides support and training for those teachers seeking National Board certification.

"We have one of the highest numbers of National Board-certified teachers in the state," Mrs. Pierce noted. "We have 93 teachers in that category."

The state has some 86,000 public school teachers, and must hire about 10,000 teachers annually to staff existing classrooms. Meantime, the state's public and private universities produce only about 3,100 teachers a year, with just 2,200 of those teaching in North Carolina.

About one in three new teachers quits the profession after three years on the job, and about 40 percent leave after five years. In urban districts, half of new teachers leave in the first five years, according to the report.

A lack of discipline and respect in the classroom tops the reasons why teachers are quitting, said Eddie Davis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which represents more than 70,000 active and retired educators across the state.

"We ought to send a signal real clearly at the beginning of the school year that discipline and decorum and order in the schools is one of the things that we are going to have to demand," he said. "We hear from so many teachers and former teachers that that's the one single issue that causes many of them to leave the profession."

Classrooms become rowdy largely because teachers aren't trained to deal with the most challenging environments, where behavior problems or language barriers can be the most difficult, said Barnett Berry, executive director of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill.

In Wayne County, new and veteran teachers have had access to training programs that provide support in classroom management. One of those, Effective Schools, has been used for nearly a dozen years.

"It helps schools stay on target with addressing the needs of the students, parents and faculty," she said.

Poor and minority students suffer the most because they typically get the most inexperienced teachers who aren't equipped to reach the neediest students. That can breed boredom that leads to misbehavior, Berry said.

"We find and entice them to get into jobs, then they're gone because they're frustrated because they don't know what to do," Berry said.

Public school systems have been trying to offset the shortage by recruiting teachers from other states. Cash rewards are also offered.