For years, educational experts have been warning of the impending retirement of a generation of experienced public school teachers, but seeing some of those numbers on paper still is sobering.
A report released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Education showed that more than 1,500 teachers retired in the 2010-11 school year. In the four previous years, retirements in the state had ranged between 1,000 and 1,100.
Kansas State Board of Education Chairman David Dennis, a Republican from Wichita, blamed the increase on continued low pay coupled with increased pension costs and fears that the state will move to a 401(k)-style retirement plan. As a public school teacher himself, Dennis probably has a pretty good read on the situation.
Budget cuts also have had an effect. Statewide teaching positions were reduced by 350 slots this school year and 260 the year before. The previous three years, the reductions were 49, 21 and 7 respectively.
The number of teacher layoffs in the last two years amounts to more than belt-tightening. It’s a demoralizing comment on the importance lawmakers place on public education and classroom teachers.
It would be nice to think that school districts are trimming the least productive and effective members of their teaching and administrative staff to make a leaner and meaner organization. That probably isn’t the case. Many of the teachers who are retiring have many years of experience that will be lost. People who are retiring early or leaving teaching for some other reason probably are doing so because they feel underappreciated and overworked and believe they will be happier and more satisfied in another job.
It’s not much of a recommendation for a career that is one of society’s most important jobs. Even the state school board’s Dennis said, “If I was in college right now looking at what I want to do with the rest of my life, I am not sure I would choose teaching as a profession.”
Unfortunately, many young people considering their futures probably share that sentiment. Retirements and other pressures are pushing many highly qualified teachers out of our public schools. Unless society and government find better ways to support and reward good teachers, it’s hard to see who will replace them.