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Teaching Shortage Creates Opportunities for Some

Not long ago, experts in the North American education industry predicted a critical shortage of elementary and secondary teachers. In some cases, that came true -- but not everywhere.

To combat the predicted shortage, the educational industries sprung into action. They instituted incentives and programs that would make it easier to become a teacher and much more beneficial to remain in the field.

At the same time, the economy slowed down. There were fewer high-paying jobs available. And that meant more people were willing to work for a teacher's pay.

As a result, the gap between the low number of teachers and the high number of available jobs began to close.

Not only that, but in certain instances, there are actually too many teachers. Some U.S. school districts have had to lay off workers. Others complain that they have way more applications than positions available.

Despite all this, there are still shortages in key subjects and geographic areas. Plus, new issues are arising that will make the teaching field once again short-handed over the next decade.

Where Are the Openings?

Marilyn Errett is an administrator for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing in California. "Like most states," she says, "our teaching shortage is in high-poverty urban centers and rural schools."

Both the U.S. and Canada struggle with shortages in the same four subject areas: math, bilingual education, science and special education.

One U.S. study of the largest urban school districts showed that nearly 98 percent of responding districts had an immediate demand for science teachers. At the same time, 95 percent reported an immediate demand for math teachers.

Is There a Shortage or Not?

Experts are still predicting an overall shortage in the number of teachers during the next decade. There are a number of reasons why.

Teacher retirements -- The National Center for Education Statistics has estimated that nearly 66 percent of America's K-to-12 teachers are expected to retire or stop teaching in the next decade.

"We are presently starting to feel the effects of retiring baby boomers," says Denis Thibault. He is the executive director of a training board. "Many teachers are opting for early retirement."

Budget cuts -- Tight budgets have led to cutbacks in teacher training and incentive programs. "A number of teacher recruitment centers and teacher education programs have lost funding," says Errett. As a result, schools can't attract the same number or quality of teachers as in years past.

An improving economy -- At the onset of the last predicted teacher shortage, many education boards attempted to solve the problem by looking for teachers outside the teaching field.

According to Errett, the California school system employs many career changers. "The state created an alternative, blended program to equip business professionals with teaching experience and all the required skills needed for a teaching job," she says.

"It's a highly successful program because it allows professionals to make the switch easily, to be paid quickly and to advance their skills through continued mentoring and coursework. They attend summer school then are immediately sent to the classroom and paid to work."

But a better economy may affect whether these career changers remain in the classrooms. As more higher-paying jobs become available, career changers may be tempted to leave teaching and return to the corporate world.

Government regulations -- Governments are placing more emphasis on teacher testing, standardized student tesing and a uniform curriculum. Many teachers find it challenging to deal with these issues and still dedicate time and energy to reaching students.

Looking Forward

Teachers will be needed, but not in every subject area, and not in every jurisdiction.

Thibault believes that jobs will be available. "Assuming relatively little change in average class size, employment growth will create many new positions."


U.S. Department of Education
Get the latest education news from the federal government

National Center for Education Statistics
Lots of research studies are available here

Education World
Includes a section on professional development

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