Everybody's looking for teachers with right stuff

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Both Las Vegas and New York City schools are in desperate need of qualified teachers. My daughter in New York tells me that in addition to offering a fast-track into the profession they are blanketing the city's subways with recruiting posters similar to the "Be all you can be" or "The few, the proud, the Marines" used by the military.

But how do you sell people on such a challenging, albeit rewarding career? Simple, you go straight for the heart.

"Take your next business trip on a big yellow bus."

Teachers get to spend our days with the most interesting people in the world - your children and grandchildren. We share and rejoice in their accomplishments. As my colleagues would tell you, "We see the lights come on every day."

The work is always important and never boring. I have no doubt about my purpose in life, about why I'm here. I'm sure firefighters, police officers, nurses and others feel similarly. We make a difference.

Some days that difference comes because we asked precisely the right question at precisely the right moment. Or we stood firm with a parent or administrator about discipline. On many days it's simply because we were there, we smiled and told a quiet little girl whose family struggles with alcoholism that she looked pretty.

"Nobody ever comes back 10 years later to thank a middle manager."

Elementary students think their teachers know everything. We are heroes, experts and in many cases, parents. With a few students, the time they spend at school is the best parenting they get.

And that kid who aggravated you all year? The one who made you wish for just a little corporal punishment? When he sees you the following September, he runs up and gives you a hug as if to say, "I was in your class for a whole year and you didn't kill me. Thanks."

Nonetheless, when most people think about my job, they think about the short work hours and long summer vacations. I have to admit, they are pretty nice. What most people don't seem to understand, is that while most days I spend about nine hours at school, I'm only paid for 7-1/2.

And those vacations - summer, spring, Christmas, Presidents' Day - are all unpaid. That's right. I am paid to work 182 days a year. That pay is stretched out over 12 months but it is still about 30% less than if I worked at another profession requiring a comparable education.

"Because your spreadsheets won't grow up to be doctors and lawyers."

I've seen reports that America will need to educate and hire two million new teachers in the next 10 years to replace us baby-boomers who are about to retire. In addition, President Bush says every classroom must have a teacher qualified and licensed to teach that subject within four years. I agree. The big question is, of course, how will that happen? How do we inspire competent, caring and committed people to become teachers? How do we retain and support those we already have?

Research suggests the most important contributor to a student's success, aside from the quality of parenting he receives, is the quality of his teachers. I am also aware school districts across the country, including right here in Nevada, are concerned about the bottom line. So although a principal might want to hire a well-educated, veteran teacher with impressive skills and experience, her human resources director would likely tell her to find someone cheaper - someone just out of college, who, if statistics are correct, has a 50 percent chance of staying in the profession beyond three years.

Ironic, isn't it? Now as we are raising the bar and expecting more of our students, the job of helping them meet those standards will go to the lowest bidder.

"You never heard of a teacher who quit to do something more important."

True. But a lot quit because they get tired. Or they take a better paying job to support their families. Or the children or parents or administrators just wear them down. Or they find out it isn't as easy as it looks. After all, this is not a career for just anyone. You must have the heart for it or you will surely fail. As will your students.

In "The Prince of Tides" Pat Conroy writes, "Listen to me. There's no word in the English language I revere more than teacher. None. My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher and it always has. I've honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming one."

If that quote touches you as it does me, perhaps you have what it takes to be a teacher. You've got heart.

Lorie Smith Schaefer and her husband have lived in Carson City for nearly 25 years. She hopes that whatever your job is, that you enjoy it as much as she enjoys hers. She is a reading specialist at Seeliger Elementary School.


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