21st Century Teaching Opportunities: Are You Ready? (Career Report: Teaching).
The wise, old philosopher, Confucius, once said, "Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day of your life." From all indications, teaching fits into that category. Through the information derived from recent, national studies, and as the result of interviews with a national cross-section of teachers, this writer is convinced that teaching is one of the most rewarding and personally gratifying professions of them all. Sure, we have all seen and heard the media reports of shocking incidents such as that which occurred at Columbine High School near Denver. And, yes, we are all too familiar with the movies that depict schools, particularly urban schools as "Blackboard Jungles." But, let me make it very clear that the Columbine High School and the "Blackboard Jungles" of this nation are very much the exception, not the rule! This point is very effectively illustrated in the massive "Year 2000 Report on Safe Schools," jointly published by the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department. After conducting intensive research in hundreds of schools throughout the country, the report concludes "The vast majority of our nation's schools are safe, secure, and enjoyable places for both teachers and students."
Even more convincing are the results of personal interviews, with a cross-section of teachers, conducted by this writer in preparation for this article. Over 20 teachers provided enthusiastic responses to such questions as:
1. What motivated you to go into teaching?
2. What do you like best about teaching?
3. What advice would you give a young person, who is considering teaching as his/her career choice?
Here are some examples of the teacher's comments:
Iris Ellis, a graduate of Virginia State, has taught elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland, for 30 years. She indicates, "What I have enjoyed most as a teacher is the opportunity to be a role model, particularly for African-American children."
Ava McClenton Penny of Silver Spring, Maryland, is a graduate of Tennessee State University. She points out that throughout her extensive 35-year experience as a teacher, she has always been most gratified "when I see the expression on children's faces that they have discovered the information that I have been attempting to impart to them."
Angela Lockhart Fisher is a graduate of Hunter College, New York. Although a relatively young teacher, she has enjoyed 12 years of success in such diverse geographical locations as New York City; Bel Aire, California; and Bethesda, Maryland. She states, "I was motivated to go into teaching by the notion that I could help children discover new things, and to develop their potential. What a joy I have in doing just that!"
From Grover, North Carolina near Charlotte, we received these insightful comments from Addieleen ("Deanie") G. Crocker, an honors graduate of North Carolina A & T University. "Through 14 years as an educator, I learned that the successful and effective teacher must be willing to accept each student as an individual with different wants, needs and abilities."
This writer commenced his career as one of two male teachers in an inner-city junior high school in Albany, New York. As the only male assigned to teach core subjects in English and social studies, and as the only African-American member of the faculty, there were special challenges to face. However, I came to love teaching. For, despite the challenges, I found that I could make a positive difference in the lives of young people. That made it all worthwhile!
As Wayne Jones reported in an earlier edition of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN:
The demand for teachers has never been greater. Increased birth rates and immigration have resulted in explosive growth in elementary arid secondary school student enrollments. By 2006, the nation's schools will enroll more than 54 million students, roughly 3 million more students than today. School districts across the country are scrambling to identify, recruit and hire more than two hundred thousand new teachers each year.
"The need for Black and Hispanic teachers has reached a critical stage," as indicated by The National Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC). In the 1999-2000 ERIC Clearinghouse Report on Teacher Education, it is reported that minority teachers now make up only 10.3 percent of the current 2.3 million public school teachers. It is projected that in the next few years, the numbers of this nation's minority students will increase tremendously. When one considers that our students represent "the future of America," it behooves us, as concerned African-American adults, to step in and see to it that our kids are educated in the most effective manner. And yet, the ERIC Clearinghouse further reports, "The number of new recruits to teaching is insufficient to meet the present and future needs, particularly among minorities." In 1994, over 12 percent of full-time public school teachers were African American. By 1999, the total of all minority teachers had decreased to 10.3 percent, despite widespread affirmative action "outreach" recruitment in all corners of the United States. This trend has increased the possibility that a student could complete 12 years of public education without coming into contact with an African-American teacher. Such a trend could distort social realities for African-American children by denying these children successful African-American role models, and suggesting, perhaps, that teaching is off limits to African-American people.
Are You Ready?
Connected with the fact that opportunities have greatly expanded in recent years for African-American teachers, is the realization that education has undergone an enormous change over the past decade. The technological revolution, as signified by the computer, has brought about innovations and educational practices that were unheard of during your parents' and grandparents' school days. Today's educator must be knowledgeable of and comfortable with the new educational technology. In a recent study, the National Education Association (NEA) found that well over 95% of the recent college graduates were computer literate. Now, is computer literacy enough to meet the challenges of today's teacher? According to Dr. Bess Isom, nationally-known professor of Early Childhood Education, Mobile, Alabama, "Today's teacher must be able to do more than just sit a child down at the computer." Dr. Isom adds, "The effective teacher of this new era must be ready, willing, and able to go that extra mile. That extra mile entails having the dedication, perseverance, and will to assist each child to become all that he or she is capable of becoming."
Susan Tierno, CEO & executive director of The Children's Educational Reform Foundation, Inc., and accomplished author of the highly successful Learning About Thinking educational resource says, "With school districts adapting ever more challenging, high standards of accountability, the teacher must become comfortable in focusing on a reforming process in which kids, teachers, and parents jointly participate in the reception, perception, organization, and evaluation of information in today's world."
As stated earlier, teaching is for some, and can be for all teachers, one of the most rewarding and personally gratifying professions of them all. However, the aspiring teacher has to ask oneself, "Am I ready to meet the challenge?" Emphasizing that a quality, well-prepared teacher in every classroom is the single most important thing this country can do for children, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley stated that school districts alone can't improve the quality of education. It takes, he pointed out, the participation of parents, teachers, students, community organizations, faith-based organizations, and education advocacy groups; all working together to have any real success. For the aspiring teacher, Dr. Riley is saying you must be a "team player" in order to achieve success in today's educational milieu.
Teacher Salaries Nationwide
In past years, a major barrier to the recruitment of teachers has been the relatively lower salary as compared to salaries of other professions. Today, school boards and educational administrators have come to acknowledge this impediment, and as a consequence, teachers' salaries nationwide have been steadily increasing. However, according to the National Federation of Teachers, there is still a great deal of variance geographically in teacher salaries. One the most reliable sources of up-to-date information on teacher salaries in the United States is the annual State-by-State Teacher Salary Survey by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The following details are excerpted from the 1999-2000 AFT report:
In 1999-2000, the average teacher salary was $41,820. This is a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year. Connecticut had the nation's top average teacher salary at $52, 410. The other highest paying states were New York at $51,020; New Jersey, at $50,878; Michigan, at $48,729; Pennsylvania, at $48,321; and Washington, D.C., at $48,304. South Dakota paid the lowest average teacher salary at $29,072. The other states paying relatively lower average teacher salaries were Oklahoma, at $29,525; North Dakota at $29,863; Mississippi, at $31,897; and Montana, at $32,121. States in New England, the Mideastern region, and the Far West reported the highest average salaries, while states in the Southwest and Southeastern regions had the lowest. Texas (ranked 27th) reported the highest average salary increase at 9.4 percent. Just three other states posted increases above 6 percent: Mississippi (ranked 48th), 7.9 percent; North Carolina (ranked 23rd), 6.8 percent; and the state of Washington (ranked 20th), 6.1 percent . The average salary for new teachers was $26,669.
Finding a Teaching Position the Easy Way
How does one go about finding just the right teaching position, with the right pay, in the right community? Recognizing the need to keep aspiring teachers, and teachers seeking new positions informed of job opportunities nationwide, several Web sites have been developed on the Internet. For your information, let us point you to three of the nation's very best such sites:
THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Online
THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Online is the cyberspace partner of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine. Together, these two resources have become a superb source of cutting-edge information on career opportunities in all major fields, including teaching. Both resources offer excellent job search strategies, graduate school opportunities, and abundantly explored industry reports at www.blackcollegian.com.
The Education America Network
The Education America Network is one of the premier education employment networks for the United States Education America Network (EAN) users. This site provides information and employment opportunities specifically related to the field of education. Accurate and up-to-date information can be obtained quickly by utilizing their easy-to-use interface. Developed as a one-stop Internet portal for education organizations, professional educators, and aspiring educators, the EAN provides access, information and resources, which are invaluable to both the employer and the prospective employee. It has literally gigabytes of data, which users may browse and explore. All of its resource information is provided free at www.educationamerica.net/about.html.
This site, like the other two, provides current information for the aspiring teacher. It is written in layman's language, yet is comprehensive and thoroughly documented. Collegegrad.com provides expert advice on writing resumes; lists current job openings; and discusses such techniques as how to present yourself for a successful job interview. Particularly useful is this site's "Salary Wizard." You can select the city or state in which you would like to work; the grade level and subject area which you prefer (including college instructing); and the type of community in which you would like to teach (urban, suburban, or rural). Almost immediately, you will be provided with the current salary range of a typical instructor within the categories that you have selected at www.collegegrad.com.
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." If you have self-confidence; if you love to impart knowledge to others; if you have a burning desire to make that important difference in the lives of others; if you want to make an important contribution; and if you know in your heart, you can be that "role model" our children will emulate; then, come sign on the dotted line because you have what it takes to be a great teacher!
James H. Lockhart is an education program specialist in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Bilingual Education.