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Nearly Half of Newly Hired Teachers Returned to Profession, Survey Finds

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By Karen Diegmueller

Teaching has been transformed into a revolving-door profession during the past five years as nearly half the "new" teachers hired since 1985 were teachers returning from a hiatus from the field, according to a survey released last week.

"Even though teachers may be leaving the profession," said C. Emily Feistritzer, director of the National Center for Education Information and author of the survey, "there is very strong evidence to suggest they are returning to the profession in relatively high numbers."

Twenty-eight percent of the public-school teachers in the survey had been hired since 1985; 45 percent of them were returnees.

Taking a break from teaching was fairly common, with 38 percent of all teachers in the survey reporting that they had done so at least once in their career.

The revolving-door phenomenon was one of many findings in the wide-ranging survey, "Profile of Teachers in the U.S.--1990," conducted under a grant from the U.S. Education Department.

Conducted last spring, the survey focused on such issues as potential teacher shortages, minority recruitment, and differences between teachers with traditional training and those who had completed alternative-certification programs.

The N.C.E.I. sample included 2,380 randomly selected public- and 352 private-school teachers. Also surveyed were 469 teachers who had completed alternative-certification programs in Texas and New Jersey.

The data show that attrition rates are expected to be relatively low over the next several years. Three-fourths of the public-school teachers surveyed said they intended to be teaching in five years, while 15 percent said they planned to be retired or in another career.

Coupled with the revolving-door syndrome, the unexpectedly low attrition rates appear to lend support to Ms. Feistritzer's long-held contention that projected large-scale teacher shortages will not materialize.

Ms. Feistritzer acknowledged, however, that "we very well may have a quality problem."

Retention rates for minorities were less encouraging: Two-thirds of the minority teachers predicted that they would be teaching five years from now.

Furthermore, the study augments the growing body of evidence that the teaching profession is failing to attract minorities.

"It's becoming increasingly white and increasingly more female," Ms. Feistritzer said. Ninety-two percent of today's teaching force is white; during the past five years, 95 percent of the returnees and newcomers comingh the traditional route were white, according to the study.

Ms. Feistritzer attributes the scarcity of minority teachers in part to school-district practices of hiring readily accessible candidates rather than undertaking aggressive recruitment drives.

"What's closest at hand are white women," she explained.

Alternative routes to certification seemed to provide more fertile ground for minorities.

In Texas, 43 percent of those who chose the alternative route were from a minority group; in New Jersey, 20 percent were minorities.

Other than the differences by race, the researchers found few significant demographic or attitudinal differences between alternative-route and traditional teachers.

The survey also found that:

Older individuals are entering the profession. On average, the age of newly hired teachers surveyed was 35. Even brand-new teachers defied tradition; their average age was 30.

A large proportion of teachers find fault with their preparation programs. The greatest number (53 percent) reported that they had been ill-prepared to gmanage a classroom and discipline students. Only 12 percent were critical of their subject-matter preparation.

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