Education Opinion

The Changing Demographics of the Teaching Profession

By Walt Gardner — October 10, 2011 2 min read
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There was a time when most students in K-12 could expect to be taught by veteran teachers. But this is no longer the case, as the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future points out (“Classroom ‘crisis': Many teachers have little or no experience,” msnbc.com, Sept. 26). In the 1987-88 school year, for example, 14 years was the most common level of experience. But by 2007-08, it was one or two years.

The trend is expected to continue as more Baby Boomers retire, better paying jobs open up in the private sector, and pressure to boost test scores mounts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public schools will need at least 1.6 million additional teachers in the next few years. The demand will be greatest in the inner cities and rural areas of the country, and it will be primarily in specific subject fields.

Where these new teachers will come from and what their presence in the classroom will mean are questions that warrant a closer look.

According to the National Center for Education Information, four out of 10 new public school teachers hired since 2005 have come from alternative teacher-preparation programs. I expect to see even more teachers entering the classroom via this route. I’m not talking only about Teach for America. I’m also referring to standalone colleges such as the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is the first such school to open in New York State in nearly a century (“Ed Schools’ Pedagogical Puzzle,” The New York Times, Jul. 21, 2011).

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that new teachers from any certification route, no matter how promising, are untested. The crucible of the classroom will determine if they have what it takes to be successful. But since nearly half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, the emphasis must be as much on retention as it is on recruitment. Unfortunately, it’s the former that has been given short shrift. The churn rate is financially costly for school districts because it takes much time and effort to replace teachers who quit. It is psychologically costly for students because the deep bonds they form with their teachers are severed when their teachers depart.

The teaching profession is going through a metamorphosis. No one knows what the eventual outcome will be. But I don’t think it will be recognizable in the next two decades.
I say that primarily because the fun has been taken out of teaching by endless rules and regulations that have effectively tied the hands of classroom teachers. Teachers in the past never chose the profession for power, fame or money. They did so because they loved their subjects, enjoyed young people and felt appreciated. It will take unusually dedicated college graduates to pass up opportunities outside of education, as immediately measurable outcomes become the only thing that matters.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.