More than a third of America’s 3.2 million teachers could retire within the next 4 years, according to a report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. Within the next 10 years, more than half – 1.7 million — could leave teaching. What’s going on? The ageing of the teaching profession. More than half of American teachers and principals are Baby Boomers.

And the NCTAF, a non-profit advocacy group, claims that recruiting more novice teachers won’t solve the problem. Inexperienced beginners, it says, are dropping out of teaching at an accelerating rate.

“The traditional teaching career is collapsing at both ends. Beginners are being driven away by antiquated preparation practices, outdated school staffing policies, and inadequate career rewards. At the end of their careers, accomplished veterans who still have much to contribute are being separated from their schools by obsolete retirement systems. In five years, two-thirds of the teachers we entrust our children to in America’s classrooms could be gone.”

“In the ’60s we recruited many baby-boom women and men, and the deal we made was, ‘You’ll have a rewarding career and at the end, pension and health benefits,’ ” said Tom Carroll, the commission’s president told the New York Times. “They signed up in large numbers and stayed, and now 53 percent of our teaching work force is getting ready to collect. If all those boomers walk into retirement, our teacher pension systems will be under severe strain, with the same problems as the auto industry.”

Are ageing teachers crying wolf or is there a real problem? Michael Podgursky, of the University of Missouri, thinks that the alarm bells are ringing too soon. In fact, he feels that the recession may help ease potential teacher shortages because college graduates and career-changers will be attracted to the generous benefits offered by the profession. Still, finding mentors for the new teachers is a problem which needs to be studied. ~ New York Times, Apr 7

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.