Wednesday, May 31, 2006

This is taken from yesterday's Gainesville Sun, and I found it to be very interesting. Click on the link for the full story

Boomers leaving schools and a void

May 30. 2006

Members of the 76 million-strong baby boomer generation who have made waves at every milestone are about to make another as they retire en masse.

The tides will be strong in Florida's schools, where 40 percent of teachers are over the age of 46. There are also baby boomer administrators, custodians, receptionists and countless other school staff nearing the end of their careers.

Elementary school teachers Allen and Ann Amos, who are husband and wife, are a pair with grand plans for their retirement. This summer, they're going to West Virginia to take Irish dancing lessons. Then they plan to travel to Ireland, and they're considering checking out Czechoslovakia, Rome and England while they're at it.

"I've taught 35 years and she's taught 30, so it's time for a break," said Allen Amos, 58, who's a second-grade teacher at Wiles Elementary School. During his career, he's taught every elementary grade level.

A lot of America's baby boomers are thinking that way, which may mean the retirements are as much a solution as they are a problem in Florida. Many retirees are expected to move south and return to work in the Sunshine State.

"It happens quite a bit, actually," said Wayne Blanton, president of the Florida School Boards Association. "We're very fortunate in that a lot of people want to retire to Florida."

Still, baby boomers will eventually leave for good, making a nationwide teacher shortage even worse. With Florida's notoriously low teacher salaries and low teacher retention, there's a concern among some that the next generation of the state's teachers won't have the charisma of their predecessors.

"I don't think the young ones are as patient or as dedicated," said Carolyn Isaac, 59. "We do have some very new, very dedicated teachers, but a lot of them are not. They go into it just because it's a job, and they switch careers a lot."

She isn't the only one worried.

Cynthia Mingo, a retiring Prairie View Academy teacher born two years before the baby boomers, fears for newer teachers who haven't experienced what teaching was like before the focus on testing and paperwork took hold.

The fourth-grade teacher said it's important to remember to make learning fun despite all the pressure and to tune in to children's holistic needs. Mingo learned that lesson early in her career, when she came out of maternity leave to take over a distraught class whose teacher died during school one day.

"We've got to make sure our children stay tuned in and feel happy about learning," she said. Fighting tears, she added, "Even though I've been doing it for 30 years, I'm still excited about teaching. I worked my heart out. It was something I loved doing, and I gave it everything I had."

Lake Forest Elementary School's Martha Olvera, a retiring teacher in the deaf and hard of hearing program, is optimistic about future teachers.

"There will be a great deal of knowledge and experience lacking (in schools), but there will be a wealth of enthusiasm," she said. "It's true testing has brought on a good deal of pressure, but good teachers have always put themselves under a kind of pressure anyway."

She said future teachers need to remember three things: to "understand we're all in this together" with parents and administrators; to be consistent and loving; and to know what they're talking about.

"I think teaching is a marvelous career if you love children and you want to make the world a better place," she said.

It's so marvelous, in fact, that Olvera, 60, plans to hold true to her baby boomer energy and return to work as soon as she's settled into the new home she's moving to in Alabama.

"I've been a teacher for 35 years and I've never been bored a day in my life," she said. "Teaching may be a lot of things, but it's never boring."

Altogether, about a third of Florida's teachers are expected to retire in the next five years.