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Bakc To School

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Moroch now works as a 5th grade teacher at Esek Hopkins Middle School in Providence, R.I. But it wasn't easy to get the job: In fact, it took him five years to track down a full-time teaching position, largely due to increased competition for jobs in the area. In the end, Moroch had to work as a substitute teacher all of last year, at $55 a day, with no guarantee of a permanent place on the payroll. "I made a lot of sacrifices that year, just to get back in,'' says Moroch, "but it was a chance I was willing to take.''

Today, a significant number of former teachers like Moroch are returning to the profession. "Returning teachers are a very live phenomenon right now,'' explains C. Emily Feistritzer, director of the National Center for Education Statistics. In fact, Feistritzer's research shows that 55 percent of all new hires in public schools are "re-entrants.'' This figure doesn't count teachers who are out for sabbaticals or short-term maternity leaves; it only includes teachers who left the profession for a number of years. Most of these returnees say they left teaching to raise children, to try another career, or to continue their education, Feistritzer says.

Many of the teachers who have left the profession and recently returned tell stories similar to Moroch's: Getting out was easy, they say, but getting back into teaching was tough. Of course, experienced teachers can and do find work. But they may face a number of problems.

The first thing most potential reentrants discover is that in many parts of the country, there simply aren't any teaching slots open. "I am convinced that, for demographic reasons, there is no teacher shortage,'' Feistritzer says. "The biggest problem returning teachers face is that jobs are not readily available; the competition is much greater than anticipated.''

Even when there are openings, experienced, well-qualified teachers are often overlooked in favor of younger, less-experienced ones. "The fact is, a returning teacher who has years of experience is going to cost a district more'' than a younger teacher, Feistritzer says. Many school districts, she adds, would rather hire recent graduates because they're cheaper.

What this means is that returning teachers, especially those in economically depressed regions of the country, may have to look for jobs outside their local district or state. "If you're willing to look in a three- to four-state area, that really is helpful,'' says Anne Newton, a spokesperson for the Northeast Regional Lab for Educational Improvement in Amherst, Mass. While one state may have an overabundance of English teachers, a nearby state may be desperately searching for them, she says.

Certification hassles also prevent some returning teachers from finding work in public schools. But there is another option: They can teach in private schools, many of which don't require teachers to be certified. "That's the beauty of the independent school world,'' says Margaret Goldsboro of the National Association of Independent Schools. "What private schools are really looking for is depth of knowledge in the teacher's subject area.''

Says Feistritzer, "Private schools continue to be a real good place for returning teachers, particularly people with advanced degrees and life experience.'' There is, of course, a downside: The pay traditionally is not as high as in public schools.

Teachers who specifically want to return to public school teaching must be willing to keep or bring their certification up-to-date, a task that may not be as formidable as many teachers assume. Still, it does take some effort, and every state has slightly different rules.

In addition to charging an annual certification fee, most states require teachers to continue their own studies. A number of them require teachers to take specific courses in order to maintain their credentials. California, Colorado, Montana, and New York are among the states with this type of requirement.

Keeping certification current may be worth the price. In many states, teachers who let their credentials lapse must take a significant number of courses all at once to make up for the fact that they haven't been earning continuing-education credits all along.

Barbara Raskin is a case in point. When Raskin left the Baltimore schools in 1971 to embark on what she calls her "20-year maternity leave,'' she let her certification lapse. Now, she's back teaching 1st grade on a provisional license at Duke Ellington Primary School. By the end of this year, she will have spent nearly two years earning the 22 college credits required for certification in early childhood education. "I didn't know at the time I left that I would be going back,'' Raskin says. "I'm really sorry I didn't get my certification sooner.''

Furthermore, teachers who have kept their certification up-to-date may find it easier than those who haven't to get a job in another state. For example, within New York and the six New England states--Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont-- most teachers who are certified may apply for a regional credential that permits them to teach in any of the seven states. "As long as they still have a valid license in one state, they can get a job in one of the other states,'' says Newton of the Northeast Regional Lab. Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska have a similar agreement, she says.

In some states, returning teachers-- both those who have maintained certification and those seeking recertification-- have to take an exam to prove that they're fit to teach. A growing number of states, for example, require all returning teachers to take a basic skills test, such as the National Teachers Examinations. Teachers don't necessarily have to take the test before receiving provisional certification, but it may be a condition for obtaining full certification.

Teachers who let their credentials lapse or who move to another state may teach without full certification if they qualify for emergency certification. In 48 states, provisional or emergency certification is available, but some only grant it during a teacher shortage or if a fully qualified teacher can't be found. Under emergency certification, teachers are usually required to meet certain course requirements within a year.

For the latest information on state certification requirements, teachers can turn to the education department in the state where they intend to teach. Those who aren't scared of bureaucratic jargon might want to flip through the manual of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, available in many education school libraries. It might prove a worthless endeavor, however, since it's dense, technical, and hard to understand.

State education departments should also be able to provide information on tenure and seniority policies. In most cases, teachers can't take tenure or seniority with them. However, those who return to the same district they taught in before they quit may hold on to tenure, but only if they return within a certain number of months. In California, for example, the limit is 39 months. The length of time varies from state to state.

Leaving and returning will definitely have an impact on an individual teacher's retirement benefits. Though many young teachers don't think much about pension benefits, those leaving the profession, temporarily or for good, should check with their district's financial officer or teachers' union to find out how local and state policies will affect them. These policies vary widely from place to place.

The salary offered returning teachers, however, is frequently an issue of supply and demand rather than hard and fast rules. "A teacher's salary depends on how badly the new district needs the teacher,'' says Richard Mastain, editor of the NASDTEC manual. "It's very probable that if they need a teacher, they would give him full credit for all the years he taught.'' Moroch, for example, earned credit for the entire 10 years he taught in the South.

"Many teachers who have been teaching for a long time are unhappy; sometimes they just burn out and need to make some changes,'' Moroch says. Only by leaving the profession was Moroch fully able to appreciate it. "I really have no regrets about leaving,'' he says.

Jeff Meade

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