Thursday, December 06, 2007

GWU provides valuable information on demand for teachers

Yesterday evening (Wed. Dec. 5), I braved the back end of an Alberta Clipper and went to another information system on teacher licensure in Arlington held by George Washington University. My main interest was to judge the teacher shortage.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve even heard negative comments to the effect that the subprime mortgage crisis and falling home values could cause school districts to lose revenue and reduce the number of teacher jobs. Conceivably, in school districts that hire unlicensed short-term subs, there could be fewer such short-term jobs as regular teachers fill them. However, no one mentioned the subprime issue last night and the general feeling is probably that is a bump on the road; in general the trend is for high demand for teachers and political pressures to pay them more. A M. Ed. degree (offered by GWU in addition to licensure) will increase a new teacher’s starting salary.

The session presented some statistics on teacher shortages (and surpluses) in the mid-Atlantic region. The greatest demand is in physics, information technology, chemistry, and, slight less so, mathematics. Bi-lingual (usually English and Spanish) teachers are in great demand and verbal fluency in Spanish (or perhaps a mid-Eastern or oriental language) is highly desired. (I add that being able to follow “correct” European French or Spanish in a movie is a far cry from being able to follow and speak it an idiomatic matter as kids speak it). Teachers certified in special education with any content area experience a demand level comparable to physics and bilingual. Surprisingly, however, there is some surplus of elementary school teachers, as there is for English and Social Studies. There is no question that returning or retired military is viewed as a particularly desirable background.

Teaching involves merging three skill sets, in varying degrees. These are (1) content expertise (2) ability to communicate from a position of authority or role model with less intact minors and (3) a general level of interpersonal communication or “people skills” and an interest in these, which bilingual fluency supports. These skill sets are needed in proportions that vary a lot from one job to the next. The media and politicians make much of the need for teachers in inner city or poverty area schools. That part is true. But outside of the poverty and special education issues, in general the demand seems to be higher in high school than in lower grades, and is higher with the more difficult-to-master content areas (like the major sciences). Generally, there is a sufficient supply of people wanting to teach grade school, but these are mostly women, and the lack of male teachers in this area has been controversial (because of negative social stereotypes). The desire of many school districts (and parents) to expand pre-school (the subject of a Leap Frog TV ad, but possibly on hold with the property values issue) could increase the demand for teachers ready to work with very young children or toddlers.

Attracting people from other fields (such as those caught in corporate downsizing, or especially people who have taken “early retirement”) depends on school districts offering enough financial incentives, as many retirees or persons in “outplacement” have circumscribed personal financial resources to pay tuition, which is considerable. School districts in the Washington DC area offer a variety of programs. These include placement in off-campus courses (which have much lower tuition and are available for most courses except what GWU calls “methods”), and (from Fairfax County and Montgomery County, at least), tuition grants or assistance, especially in math and science areas, and stipends for up to a year of student teaching (and sometimes a period as a “long term sub” which pays a somewhat decent hourly wage). Usually, student teaching involves required periods in both middle and high schools (or elementary school as a separate program). GWU and the federal government do offer a variety of loans, and some of these loans are forgiven in some programs that involve teachers committing themselves to teaching in poverty areas. The District of Columbia has a Literacy Collaborative that stresses middle and elementary schools and has a “residency” program.

A mentioned a couple of issues to the staff there at the end of the session. One is that retirees who worked in the “real world” of adult business and personal values often are not prepared for the communication and even emotional demands that somewhat disadvantaged or less mature children make (this can even be true of people who did raise their own families). At the same time, some more advanced classes have adult-like students who actually work well with teachers who act more as facilitators and leave them alone to work. All of this was particularly true with subs, who may have trouble establishing credibility if they don’t gear their communication to the actual needs of the class (and they may not know how to do this if just coming from business).

I also noted that the school systems are pretty much hoodwinked by all of the free speech v. harm issues that come up with the Internet. Teachers of information technology may well find kids who know more than they do (in a world where middle school kids have made and edited commercially viable short films about disabled military veterans and global warming, and where other kids have figured out on their own how to reverse engineer the iPod). The range of issues – social networking, implicit content, search engine presence, reputation defense, copyright, anonymity, broadband neutrality – generally presented separately by NGO organizations and think tanks create an intellectual web that school systems need to organize and present to students now, and no one seems to have figured out how to do this.

GWU’s basic web link for this is here.

I had discussed the substitute teacher issue in December 2006 on this blog here.

Another earlier discussion from my main blog Dec 2006 is here (with other links).

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