The Times West Virginian

Local News

July 13, 2014

New, young teachers are coming into school system

Retirement pattern causes major changes

FAIRMONT — The students are starting to become the teachers.

Trends in Marion and surrounding counties show that new, young teachers are more steadily taking the place of retiring educators, bringing new life into the public school system.

Teachers from the baby boom generation were hired around the same time, so during the 1980s and ’90s, it was difficult to get a position with any board of education because the employees were all fairly young.

“When I first started in the personnel office in 2004, one of the first people I hired had been on the substitute list for 13 years,” said Gary Price, superintendent of schools in Marion County. “I’d like to say that was unusual, but there were lots of people who subbed for eight, 10, 12 years before they got hired at that time simply because jobs were few and far between.”

Recently, though, more teachers are retiring, which has led to a recent increase in percentage of graduating teachers — particularly spring graduates — who find full-time employment in schools, said Jacqueline Web-Dempsey, associate dean of Fairmont State University’s School of Education, Health and Human Performance.

“We have been predicting that we would at some point have a shortage of teachers because of the patterns that we were anticipating with retirement,” she said. “Those patterns never manifested because of the slump in the economy. People continued to work longer than perhaps they had anticipated or we had projected that they would work.”

Now seems to be the right time for them.

In Marion County, 32 teachers retired in the 2013-14 academic year. Twenty-nine teachers retired in 2012-13, and 21 in 2011-12.

Harrison County retired 41 teachers between October 2013 and June 2014.

The educators coming in to replace them, at least in Marion County, are recent college graduates in their 20s, Price said.

Similarly, many new hires in Harrison County have fewer than three years of professional teaching experience in the classroom, the Harrison County Board of Education reported.

Just because new teachers are relatively inexperienced, it doesn’t mean they aren’t prepared and properly trained.

Fairmont State University, which sends undergraduate student teachers to 40 schools in Marion, Monongalia, Harrison, Preston, Wetzel and Taylor counties, has recently doubled the time student teachers are required to be in the classroom engaged in full-time teaching.

Student teachers are also participating in staff activities like required meetings during that time.

“It means future employers have an opportunity to really see them in action and make decisions about who they might want to recruit if they know they have an opening coming up,” Web-Dempsey explained.

Price renews an agreement with Fairmont State and West Virginia University each year to receive student teachers, which is helpful when the time comes to make new hires.

“It’s important because, first of all, that gives us a good early look at teachers that we’re hoping to recruit,” he said.

Even before teaching candidates are admitted into the program at Fairmont State, they are required to complete 50 hours of volunteer service, 30 of which must be in an educational setting of their choice. They must also complete 20 hours of work in one of the 40 schools doing things like tutoring and assisting current teachers, said Web-Dempsey.

Between 30 and 40 new teachers graduate from Fairmont State each semester.

Price believes the younger teachers bring excitement and enthusiasm to the classroom, and that might push other faculty to raise the bar with what they’re doing, he said.

“Just simply the fact that they are younger, students relate to them a little better than some of the older teachers,” said Price. “The older teachers may have the advantage of being a veteran and knowing how to deal with particular situations, but the fact that younger teachers will look for different and innovative solutions, that’s good for their class and it’s good for the school as a whole.”

These youngsters are also learning new teaching methods and research that were not even on the radar when some of the older teachers were in school, said Web-Dempsey.

“We believe that experienced teachers have a tremendous amount of expertise that they’ve built over those years practicing the art and science of teaching, and so I certainly would never say I think the new teachers are going to be better than experienced teachers have been in the past,” she said. “I would say sometimes they come with a different set of skills simply because education is a changing field. What we know about teaching and about learning in particular is constantly evolving.”

This evolution will continue in years to come, keeping both aspiring and current educators up to date through further research and new standards in professional development, she said.

Both students and teachers will continue to learn.

“We’re seeing a trend toward better salaries for teachers and an understanding that the quality of the teacher is integral to the learning process ... That all means that you’ve got to make sure that you’re investing in ongoing professional development. I think it’s a time to go into teaching when, if you are a lifelong learner, you’re going to have those opportunities,” said Web-Dempsey. “Teaching is one of those professions where that’s not just encouraged and supported. It’s required.”

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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