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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Will Retired Teachers Also be Wooed?

One commentator believes that with the looming worker shortage, retired workers will be wooed to return to work.

This is not open to much question. It will happen even if the jobless recovery continues its vexing ways. That's because the people who will shape this future are already here and their numbers aren't going to change in the next 10 years. And it's because we have a pretty good idea of how many people it will take to generate the economic activity we can reasonably expect to occur.

The younger workers are, for the most part already working, Philip Moeller says. They will most likely continue working, so there will be few extra younger workers available to close the gap. Retirees aged 65 or older most likely have retired for good. So it will be the baby boomers beginning to retire now or who were forced into early retirement by a layoff or other cause who could be enticed to come back.

In a study done at Northeastern University earlier this year, Barry Bluestone and Mark Melnik say that in eight years, more than five million jobs may go begging unless there's a big boost in what's called the labor force participation rate -- the percentage of Americans who seek work. The big driver here is that the numbers of Baby Boomers leaving the work force will exceed the supply of new workers coming from younger generations.

The gap is a concern in another context: Social Security. In old news, the Social Security Administration estimates that in the near future, there will not be enough workers per retiree to pay retirees 100% of promised benefits. During the Social Security debate of the Bush administration, many opined that immigrants would fill the gap.

The authors of the study cited earlier list the top thirty jobs with shortages, called “encore” jobs. Standing at the head of the list? Teachers. If school administrators want to lure teachers back to the classroom, they will first have to address at least two issues, administrative support and credentialing.

Teachers who left the classroom, retired or not, might come back if their number one reason for leaving were addressed: lack of administrative support. Schools need to take the position that an education is not only a right, but a privilege. Administrators must remove the onus of classroom control from the teacher. Teachers should be able to send out students who clearly show by their disruptive behavior they would rather be somewhere else. Let that somewhere else be the principal's office. Teachers should not have to endure disruptive students for fear the administration will draw negative conclusions about their competence if they send students to the office.

Whoa! What if the principal's office were thus flooded with students? I once worked in a school where the administration believed it was the teacher's job to teach, not mete out “discipline.” Students found they actually did not like being out of class regardless of whether they cared about learning or not. Sitting in a chair outside the principal's office (no cell phones, etc. allowed) was way more “boring” than any teacher.

The bottom line is that responsibility for behavior must be returned to the students, especially since they often complain that they are too old to be treated as children. So-called “boredom” must never be allowed as an excuse for acting out or disrespecting the teacher.

Another important consideration is our society's current over-reliance on teacher credentialing as evidence of competence. Though research has not confirmed a correlation between credentialing and competence, the difficulty is that we have not yet figured out what constitutes competence. Given the constant calls to get rid of tenured, credentialed yet incompetent teachers, everyday experience casts doubt on correlation between competence and credentialing.

If society wants to bring back its teachers, it will have to find a way to determine a sensible alternative route to credentialing. Most credentials will have long expired, and if re-credentialing is onerous and expensive, the teacher shortage will not be filled with proven classroom veterans.

If past history is any indication, the teacher shortage will persist. I have an old Time article from 1985 worrying about the coming shortage of math and science teachers. For the last twenty-five years, warnings of shortage were sounded as cyclically as the sunrise, but nothing was done to prevent it. The shortage has arrived, and still, nothing but hand-wringing prevails.

Meanwhile, great teachers cannot get teaching jobs because our school districts do not hire experienced teachers. Too expensive, they say. What I cannot understand is why society accepts such a flimsy excuse, especially since currently, most district give credit on the wage scale for no more than five years experience. Any teacher with more than five years is actually a bargain, not “too expensive.”

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