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 Montpelier Magazine

Best Teachers Ever

Each of us carries a fond memory of that one very special teacher -- the person whose wisdom and caring approach to sharing knowledge enriched our lives in ways that extend far beyond the classroom. If asked who, other than your parents, had the greatest impact on your life, most would answer with the name of a particularly inspiring or challenging teacher -- someone whose guidance and wisdom made a profound and lasting impression on your life.

There are many teachers who fit that description both on the James Madison University faculty and among JMU graduates who are in the teaching profession.

Unfortunately, our society has never given the teaching profession the financial and societal recognition that it deserves. As a consequence, we are facing the largest teacher shortage in history. More than a million veteran teachers are nearing retirement. Half the teachers who will be needed in public school classrooms 10 years from now have not yet been hired.

Nationwide, some 2.4 million teachers will be needed in the next decade because of teacher attrition, retirement and increased student enrollment. By 2008, public school enrollment will exceed 54 million, an increase of nearly two million children over today.

In addition to the pending retirements of veteran teachers, there is tremendous turnover among young teachers. Twenty percent of all new hires leave teaching within three years. In urban districts, almost half of the newcomers flee the profession during their first five years of teaching.

There are many reasons for the inadequate numbers of graduates entering the teaching profession and the high turnover of those already in the classroom. The one overriding reason, however, is clearly salary.

The beginning teacher makes an average of $25,000 a year. New engineering graduates and computer scientists start with salaries twice that high. Salaries for experienced teachers create an even greater problem. Veteran teachers earn approximately $30,000 less per year than their peers with similar educational preparation.

The crisis we now face in the supply of teachers is a national issue and it is one of major concern for JMU, since teacher education is at the core of our institution's heritage. Our scope as an institution of higher learning has expanded enormously over the years, but we have always been, and continue to be, committed to the mission of preparing the finest teachers possible.

JMU's teacher education program has been the standard for quality in the Commonwealth of Virginia for nearly a century. Some 20 percent of all those who ever graduated from JMU were in the teacher preparation curriculum. Today, with 10 percent of the student body in the curriculum, JMU annually leads the state in the number of new teachers entering the profession.

Along with that quantity, there is high quality. Montpelier always contains class notes about alumni who are teachers. Many of them detail the high honors our teacher graduates have received. On Page 8, there is a story about Virginia Teacher of the Year, Cari Del Fratte Vickey ('92/ '96M). Winning that same award two years ago was 1998 National Teacher of the Year, Phil Bigler ('74/'76M).

At JMU, we are committed to do everything we can to help provide a steady flow of qualified teachers for our nation's youth. Our university is poised not only to continue its tradition of producing outstanding teachers, but also to play a leading role in emphasizing the importance of the teaching profession.

America must have the influence of outstanding teachers -- not average teachers, not mediocre ones, but outstanding teachers -- to prepare our children and grandchildren for the future. None of this can be accomplished without cost, but the cost of not doing what must be done will be far greater.

Our society must place a higher value on the role that teachers play. Help us in your communities by encouraging better rewards, greater support and enhanced respect for teachers. The future of our communities and our nation depends on an educated and enlightened population that only high-quality teachers can create.

Linwood H. Rose, President