August 29 2018

Welcome, teachers, and a sincere thank-you for returning to your classrooms for another school year.

Few people can have the influence on our children that their teachers do. Their names stick with you for life. The good ones often become friends and have the ability to encourage students in ways their parents often cannot. Good teachers are a necessity.

Which is why the continuing trend of teacher shortages locally and across the state remains alarming. Low pay — 18 percent of teachers earn income outside the classroom, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report — is a big factor and helped spur on some of the statewide teacher strikes witnessed in the last year, notably in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

And gone are the days of the image of a plush union paycheck and long summer vacations, if that ever truly existed. Today’s teachers are expected to be constantly continuing their education, often out of pocket, in order to maintain their certifications.

But money is only one factor in the mix. Insufficient classroom resources, too-large class sizes, and testing requirements, as well as political attacks on unions and the profession itself, have helped drive qualified candidates and veteran teachers away from education. A 2013 poll found that teacher satisfaction had declined 23 percentage points since 2008. 

One can only wonder what effect last spring’s Parkland shooting, and the false alarms in its wake, will have on those considering entering or remaining in the field. College students were already turning away from the major, according to recent data. In 1975, more than one-fifth of college students majored in education. By 2015, that number fell to fewer than one in 10, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, shortages are exacerbated by an increased demand on our public schools. As of fall 2017, 50.7 million students were attending public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2025, that number is expected to expand to 51.4 million.

Traditionally, the shortage was particularly acute in math, special education, science and foreign languages, but now is being felt across the board. And local schools are feeling it.

That is why Fauquier County Public Schools should be lauded. According to a recent press release, one week into the academic year, it has filled 120 certified vacancies, leaving only 10 open.

Fauquier County recruited regionally to attract qualified candidates while also focusing on grooming home-grown talent, where students shadow education personnel and prepare with mock interviews.

And the Virginia Department of Education is playing a role, helping to attract career switchers and by passing legislation to make it easier for in-state teachers to renew their licenses and out-of-state teachers to get licenses in the state, and extending the period those licenses are effective.

Both the county’s and state’s efforts are necessary if we are to properly address the needs of our students and our community. If we are to turn out graduates who are either prepared to achieve with their counterparts in the nation’s colleges and universities, or are equally prepared to take their place in society, we must have, attract and keep the best teachers available.

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