ANNAPOLIS – Lydia Foster’s Baltimore elementary school is full of fresh, young faces – and she’s not referring to the students.
More than half of Foster’s 20 teachers are first- or second-year instructors, and they’re a mix of college graduates and career-changers.
It’s great that so many new teachers are coming in, but the high number of those leaving teaching has school officials worried that the profession is becoming unbalanced.
“I think veteran teachers and new teachers learn from each other. That’s what will be lost if we have an overabundance of new teachers,” said Sheila Allen, a professor at Harford Community College who is working with the state Education Department to recruit more teachers.
A statewide teacher shortage has forced school systems to hire thousands of less experienced graduates and job-changers over the past few years to replace veteran teachers.
Experienced teachers have been fleeing schools for years, mainly because of low pay or retirement, said Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard.
The average teacher in Maryland earns about $46,500 a year depending on the county, he said. A teacher’s average starting salary is $30,321.
The teaching flight comes at a time when more instructors are needed to tutor the flood of Baby Boomers’ children now attending school, Reinhard said.
Ten years ago, 770,000 students attended Maryland public schools, he said. Now 860,000 attend. With the influx of students, schools need to hire more teachers to keep class sizes small.
Since 1991, the number of hires in the state has more than doubled. About 2,800 teachers were hired in the 1991-1992 school year. By the 2000-2001 school year, 7,649 teachers were needed, 4,602 of whom were new to the profession. The following school year, 4,030 beginning teachers were hired, according to the Education Department’s most recent statistics. The teacher shortage has also meant hiring a many career-changers – or professionals with no education degree but knowledge in a particular field – to replace veteran teachers. To become full-time teachers, career-changers can be provisionally qualified for up to a year until they can meet professional teaching requirements.
During the 1999-2000 school year, 3,987 provisionally certified teachers worked in the state. That number rose to more than 5,000 provisional teachers, many of whom were career-changers, during the 2001-2002 school year. Of the 5,000, 2,163 were new hires.
Nationally the trend is no different. School systems in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas are all facing teacher shortages.
With the increased number of inexperienced hires and the flight of veteran teachers in the state, first- and second-year teachers are dominating some schools.
“What’s sad about that is in most cases the less-experienced teacher is going to be sent into the school with the highest needs and they will not have the experience and the expertise,” said Wanda Hurt, vice president of legislation for the state PTA. “They’re being put into situations where they’re really not ready.”
New teachers, whether provisionally or professionally qualified, need to be in schools where there is a balance of new and experienced teachers, Hurt said.
Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s County have had the largest influx of new teachers replacing more experienced ones, Reinhard said. However, the lack of teachers is taking its toll in every Maryland county.
“It’s been a growing problem really over the past decade,” Reinhard said. “We definitely think there’s a potential” for it to affect student education.
A crucial part of hiring new teachers is pairing them with a more experienced teacher so they can get feedback, Maryland State Teachers Association president Patricia Foerster said.
“If they’re not supported, they’re not successful,” she said. “They end up leaving.”
Calvert High School Principal Gene Bridgett takes pride in his staff of almost 100, especially the 20 teachers who have more than 20 years of experience each.
But the newcomers help recharge veteran teachers. “It’s really refreshing because they (beginning teachers) bring new ideas. At the same time they are willing to listen,” said Ben Williams, a social studies teacher at Calvert High for more than 20 years. “I believe you have to have a mix of experienced teachers that know their subject and their content. You also need that spark of enthusiasm and excitement that comes from youth.”