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Jewish World Review August 3, 1999 /21 Av, 5759

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Unemployment? Not in this profession --
IF YOU NEED IT, Wal-Mart has it. Even, it seems, teachers.

That's where desperate teacher recruiters were hiring in Washington, D.C., recently. According to The Washington Post, principal Cecelia Jones-Bowlding was browsing in Wal-Mart when she spotted a group "who looked like teachers." The bulletproof vests probably gave them away.

Sure enough the group confessed they were teachers, whereupon Jones-Bowlding immediately hired a couple.

Desperate? You bet. School districts across the country are scrambling to fill teacher openings before classes resume in a few weeks. Though low-performing schools in inner-city neighborhoods are having the hardest time, districts nationwide are facing teacher shortages.

And it's going to get worse. In the next several years, American schools will try to hire 100,000 new teachers to satisfy President Clinton's promise to reduce class size. In the next decade, owing to increased student enrollments and baby-boomer retirements, schools will be trying to hire 2 million new teachers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

There's just one problem: no teachers. Those being hired out of desperation often aren't qualified or are only "provisionally certified." That means teachers may still be taking college courses and lack the classroom experience required for full certification. Where have all the teachers gone? Theories abound. Salaries aren't high enough, some say. Beginning teachers usually start at about $30,000, while veterans make no more than $50,000. Others opine that classes are too large and administrations often unsupportive.

Still others point to declining enrollment in teachers' colleges. For some reason - risk aversion, perhaps? - young people don't want to be teachers anymore. Experienced teachers, who are leaving the profession in droves, understand why: It's not the economy, stupid. It's the brats.

Most are leaving, not because of low pay, but because they don't feel like strapping on a gun in the mornings. If they'd wanted to fight wars, they would have joined the military.

Instead, most teachers enter the field idealistic and enthusiastic. It doesn't take long for them to seek the exit, usually out of angst, fear and disgust with abusive students and their low-brow parents.

In reading several stories about the teacher shortage, I didn't see a single mention of student behavior or discipline problems --- an oversight that underscores our national denial. When it comes to education, we're like the parent who, when told his child called the teacher an obscenity, gasps: "Not my child!"

Yes, your child. Yes, your teacher shortage.

For the past couple of years, I've been collecting teachers' letters that reveal reasons for the exodus. Teachers say they're abandoning the classroom because of abusive students and spineless administrators, who, either emasculated by regulations or leery of lawsuits, duck for cover when parents come ranting.

From my reading, there's no difference between public schools, large or small, whether in the inner-city, rural settings or rich suburbs. Teachers from all parts say the same: Brats are ubiquitous and teachers have had it.

Which is to say, public education is doomed no matter how much money we throw at it - no matter how many young teachers we sucker into signing up for five-year tours of duty - if we don't put teachers back in charge of their classrooms.

We can't make parents teach their children manners - you can only teach what you know - but we can restore order to classrooms by empowering teachers and eliminating troublemakers, immediately.

Otherwise, before long we won't even be able to find a teacher at Wal-Mart.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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