- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

More teachers, it seems, are ready to leave their schools behind.

Forty percent of public-school teachers plan to exit the profession within five years, the highest rate since at least 1990, according to a study being released today.

The rate is expected to be even greater among high-school teachers, half of whom plan to be out of teaching by 2010, according to the National Center for Education Information.

Retirement is the dominant factor, because the public-teaching corps is aging fast, say surveys of teachers in kindergarten through grade 12.

In 1996, 24 percent of teachers were 50 or older. By 2005, 42 percent of teachers are.

“I’m ready to do what I want to do,” said Pat Jeppe, 59, a middle-school teacher in Southaven, Miss., who plans to retire in a couple of years after teaching for 35 years. “I finally have grandchildren, and I want to be with them and go to their school functions.”

The projected turnover rate will deprive school districts of an enormous amount of teaching experience just as the U.S. is pushing to get a top instructor in every class.

The proportion of teachers with at least 25 years in the classroom has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 12 percent to 27 percent.

The teaching corps has grown older across the board because more people are moving into the field in their 30s and 40s, said Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Education Information, a private organization that specializes in survey research of school trends.

“We’re going to have tremendous turnover, but I happen to think it’s a tremendous opportunity, rather than a hand-wringing time,” she told the Associated Press.

“We’ll have 40 percent of the teaching force replaced by mid-career switchers and people with life experience, people with altruistic motives for coming into teaching,” Miss Feistritzer said.

In 1990, 74 percent of teachers predicted that they would still be in the classroom five years later. In the surveys, that total dropped to 66 percent in 1996 and 60 percent this year.

School districts are expanding their recruitment beyond colleges of education to other career fields, where experts in math, science and other subjects are being trained to teach.

Broadening this pool of prospective teachers will help fill the void of retiring teachers, said Michelle Rhee, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that helps some of the largest school districts recruit teachers.

Younger people remain a big force in public teaching, with one in three teachers 39 or younger. But many of those teachers no longer think of teaching as a 30-year career.

“There is a growing realization that the mind-set is shifting, that they don’t consider teaching to be a lifelong profession,” Miss Rhee said.

Overall, 83 percent of teachers say they are satisfied with their jobs, a level that has held steady in the past 15 years. Yet, beyond retirement, teachers say they have plenty of reasons to consider leaving, including concerns about pay, dissatisfaction with school bureaucracy or plans to work in another education job.

The survey of 1,028 public-school teachers, taken in March through June, has a three percentage point margin of error.

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