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How do schools convince more to become teachers?

July 26, 2005

In an interview printed in the Sunday Herald-Mail, Associated Press reporter Dave Dishneau put a human face on one of those 10 foreign teachers the Washington County school system is hiring for the next school year.

Diana Marco, a 32-year-old Venezuelan who taught English in that country last year, will teach Spanish here this year.

Though she will be paid 10 times more than experienced teachers earn in her country, she told Dishneau she worries about whether her $37,708 salary will cover her living expenses here.

When the school system announced it would be hiring teachers through the Visiting International Faculty program, there were protests from the local teachers association and from citizens whose own children have been unable to find work in the system.

School officials have tried to make the point that these 10 teachers will not stay in the system forever, but will return to their home countries after three years.

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After that, school system officials say, home-grown teachers will be able to move into those slots, provided they have the proper skills.

Whether American students will answer the call is uncertain. The Maryland Teacher Staffing Report issued in August 2004 showed that the state was producing hundreds fewer teachers than needed to fill slots, especially in areas such as foreign languages, math and science.

How can the school system get more Marylanders to enter the teaching profession?

Raise teachers' pay, say local and state teachers' unions, who say that the turnover that results from inadequate pay means the school system is constantly in training mode.

The competition for the best teachers is due to intensify, because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that teachers in a variety of areas - from the arts to the sciences - must be "highly qualified" by the end of the next school year.

For those who aren't aware, quality costs. Teacher pay has increased locally under the leadership of Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan, but as a profession, teachers still lag behind on the pay scale.

In 2004, a study of teacher pay was released by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that focuses on the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans.

The study found that pay for the nation's teachers is considerably lower than for workers who have comparable educations and skills.

The authors found that in 2002, teachers earned about $116 per week less than comparably educated people in other professions, or about 12.1 percent less.

The kicker here is that because teachers tend to work more hours than their colleagues, the disparity was actually 14.1 percent.

Teachers currently in the profession accept the fact that they need to spend hours outside the classroom to get the job done. Those outside the profession who are pondering their career choices may not see it that way.

The solution to the problem may not be just finding additional dollars, but helping educators cut down on the work they do outside the classroom that really isn't teaching.

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