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Lots of Students, Not Enough Teachers

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A pop quiz for the start of the new school year: Take the highest number of students that ever attended United States schools (52.7 million). Add the lowest unemployment rate in 27 years. Factor in new laws mandating reduced class sizes.

Question: Where will the schools find the teachers they need to fill this fall's classrooms?

In New York City, new math and science teachers are coming from Austria and bilingual teachers from Spain. Mississippi is offering a free college education to students who commit to teaching in districts with critical shortages. Texas and California are making teachers out of ex-aerospace engineers and volunteer parents.

Teacher recruitment used to be a bland business, involving the usual prospects from local teachers colleges. To be local was good; to be known was better.

"School districts historically have not been very creative in the ways they go about recruiting teachers," says Emily Feistritzer, of the Washington-based National Center for Education Information.

But this year the annual scramble for teachers is driving many school districts out of the old routines. Schools are looking further afield and tapping into a deeper pool of applicants than ever before.

The realities of finding teachers in a tight labor market, however, could lower standards in tough-to-staff districts.

In response to such pressures, Kentucky is allowing five districts to hire substitutes who have only a high school diploma, "as a last resort," Kentucky officials say.

New York stayed ahead of the hiring game to avoid a repeat of last year's fiasco, when 3,000 teaching posts remained vacant the week before schools opened. This time, school administrators tried new recruiting strategies, including importing 24 math and science teachers from Austria and seven Spanish teachers from Spain.

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