Opinion Columns & Blogs

Sharon Hartin Iorio: Don't worry; education system still there for us

Enduring doubt about economic recovery, stubbornly persistent unemployment, hotly contested primary election campaigns and a soaring heat index have added up to a Kansas summer of sizzling uncertainty. Not much seems predictable these days.

Yet in just a few short weeks, bright yellow buses will again take up their march through the streets. Anxious and brave 5-year-olds with new boxes of sharply pointed crayons and blunt-tipped scissors will present themselves at the first threshold of organized scholarship. And there will be Friday night football.

Ingrained and constant, our education system continues to be there for us.

Furthermore, there is a continuing demand for teachers and other education staff. The Kansas State Department of Education website recently posted 471 job openings.

However, I'm repeatedly asked by recent high school grads and older individuals seeking a career change whether there is a future in teaching. The answer is positive, although the explanation is not simple:

* Through 2007 and most of 2008, in Kansas and across country we witnessed a large and continuing need to recruit new teachers because of population growth, the impending retirement of baby boomer teachers, and the growing need for additional teachers of special education, math and science, as well as teachers of English language acquisition, languages other than English, and early childhood education.

* In 2009, overall hiring in the education sector began to slow. Yet newly minted graduates of Kansas universities experienced little difficulty finding employment as teachers, provided they were willing to accept positions outside of urban areas.

* In 2010, things changed more dramatically. School districts across the state were forced to cut budgets, even with a 1-cent statewide sales-tax increase, which reduced openings for new teachers. Moreover, as the baby-boomer generation of teachers observed little bounce-back in their already shaky financial nest eggs, fewer elected to retire from teaching.

The decrease in new teacher hires for fall 2010 is a national phenomenon. Hawaii, for example, is hiring about half as many teachers this year as it typically does.

The Wichita school district expected that about 200 new licensed teachers would be hired to start in August. This is down about half from the past several years' average, but still a sizable number.

Historian Henry Steele Commager observed that "no other people ever demanded so much of schools and of education as have the American." When he made this statement in the 1950s, little could he have foreseen the challenges to school systems that our current recession would bring.

Yet, without fail, this fall in Kansas and across the nation, our educational systems will begin anew to bring together all our children, regardless of background, and teach them to achieve.

Those who see their future in teaching should move forward now and rely on the significance of the vocation and the opportunities for teaching positions that currently exist, although in the near future those positions will be fewer in number than previously.

Never doubt that someone, always, will be there to switch on the Friday night lights.