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Many Army Personnel Expect To Be Teaching Soon

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WASHINGTON--Among current U.S. Army personnel considering a shift to an education career, one-third expect to be teaching in K-12 schools within the next five years, according to a report released last week by the National Center for Education Information.

The report's findings were based on written surveys completed by 607 active Army personnel who had called the Army's New Careers in Education hot line between June 1991 and July 1992.

In addition to the 33 percent that said they planned to teach in precollegiate education, 10 percent expected to teach at the postsecondary level and 10 percent hoped to work in some other area in education. Among the rest, 13 percent planned to remain in the military and 16 percent expected to be employed in a field other than the military or education.

"I think these people are quite serious about wanting to work in education,'' C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the center, a private, Washington-based research organization, said at a press conference here last week.

"My overall conclusion was that you have here an extremely enthusiastic, optimistic, talented bunch of people eager to reform American education,'' Ms. Feistritzer added.

Among the report's other findings:

  • About three-quarters of survey participants said they were thinking about teaching in senior high schools, 65 percent in middle or junior high schools, and 28 percent in elementary schools.
  • When asked about the types of schools they would like to teach in, 95 percent said they were interested in public schools, 50 percent in private, nonsectarian schools, 30 percent in Catholic schools, and 31 percent in other religious schools.
  • Slightly more than a third were willing to teach in inner-city schools, compared with 88 percent in small-town, 84 percent in suburban, and 67 percent in rural schools.
  • The subjects participants were most interested in teaching were history (45 percent) and "social studies/social sciences'' (42 percent), neither of which has a critical shortage of teachers. But the respondents also expressed interest in subjects in which there is a greater need, such as mathematics (26 percent), biology (9 percent), chemistry (5 percent), physics (10 percent), and general science or other sciences (27 percent).

Lower Salaries Acceptable

The average age of the respondents was about 40, and their average current annual salary about $42,000.

But although they are entering what for most people are their prime earning years, many of those surveyed indicated they would be willing to take a cut in pay in order to go into teaching.

Respondents reported that they would like to earn $28,000 as a beginning teacher, but would accept $24,400 on average. The average salary for beginning teachers in the 1990-91 academic year was $22,830, according to the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

"The salary issue does not to seem to be as major to them as it does to other mid-career switchers,'' Ms. Feistritzer said, "and one of the main reasons is because the military does offer very good retirement and early-out benefits. ''

More Men and Minorities

The movement to encourage retiring military personnel to become teachers was initially launched to alleviate a predicted nationwide teacher shortage. (See Education Week, May 20, 1992.)

Because that shortage never materialized, however, the movement's focus has since shifted toward filling regional shortages, increasing the supply of teachers in particular subject areas, and "improving the overall quality'' of the teaching force, Ms. Feistritzer noted.

In addition, she argued, initiatives such as the New Careers in Education program are valuable because they may help bring more males and members of minority groups into the classroom.

Among the survey group, for example, 90 percent were men and 23 percent were from minority groups. The current teaching force, by contrast, is overwhelmingly white and female.

Since the 1980's, between 2,000 and 3,000 former Army personnel have become K-12 teachers, according to Patricia Hines, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for personnel support, whose office commissioned the survey.

Moreover, the number of soldiers hoping to move into teaching careers is expected to increase significantly as the U.S. military downsizes its forces over the next few years. The armed forces will be reduced by approximately 200,000 personnel by 1995, according to Lieut. Col. Doug Hart, a spokesman for the Defense Department.

Slim Chance of Jobs

But Ms. Feistritzer conceded that at a time when the supply of teachers outpaces the demand in many regions, former soldiers will not have an easy time finding positions right away. "I think if they just get thrown out there, their chances of finding jobs are not very great,'' she said.

Both Ms. Feistritzer and Ms. Hines anticipate, however, that the Pentagon's creation of formal partnerships with school districts in South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and other states will lead administrators to seek out former military personnel when hiring new teachers.

Ms. Hines said she was "very pleased'' with the survey's results. "We think they are a preliminary indication that the soldiers who are calling the hot line are serious, are qualified, and will probably end up teaching at some point in time.''

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