Is there a teacher shortage? If you're talking to the National Education Association, Carnegie Foundation or RAND Corp., the answer is yes. But the National Center for Education Information, Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics say no.
Both sides agree that the profession has been helped by recent reforms, including better pay and more decisionmaking power in the classroom. The Labor Department contends that these changes along with "normal market adjustments" should prevent shortages and may even let schools be more selective in hiring.But suppose the demand for teachers does not exceed supply? One solution would be President Bush's program to encourage "alternative certification" that would "allow talented Americans from every field to teach in America's classrooms." A largely untapped pool of potential teachers being eyed are those retiring from business, industry and the military, and homemakers.
Given that people are living longer and many seek early retirement, launching a second career is feasible.
How could this potential be tapped? A state, for example, in partnership with local companies, could launch a recruitment campaign aimed at private-sector employees, military personnel and homemakers. Recruits would receive 90 days of intensive teacher training at a state university, followed by a semester of assistant teaching under an experienced mentor.
For recruits coming from early retirement in the private sector, employers could be encouraged to pay part of the teaching salaries, a subsidy made possible by lower pensions provided to early retirees.
Corporations such as Polaroid, Digital and IBM have been experimenting with creating teaching paths for early retirees, and 23 states are experimenting with alternative-certification paths.
QUESTION: Recently, my 72-year-old father and I got into an argument when I told him I planned to mortgage my house to remodel the kitchen. He claims I'm being irresponsible by assuming so much debt. Are these generational differences common?
ANSWER: Your experience illustrates what one researcher contends many overlook: that money means more than dollars and cents. Says Francis Lomas Feldman of the University of Southern California: "Money has special economic and social" connotations that usually reflect back on "something that happened earlier in the person's life."
For many Americans age 65 and older, that "something" was the Great Depression. These survivors may be "very careful about money because they remember how important it was (in the 1930s) to save for a rainy day," notes Feldman.
Such conservative habits may place Depression babies at odds with baby boomers, who grew up in a more prosperous, consumption-oriented society. In recent years, the boomers' spending rate has jumped 15 percent despite evidence that their real income has dropped.
Older persons may feel uneasy about such spending patterns. Moreover, many view costly contemporary products and goods as extravagances.
For their part, younger adults may fail to recognize that attitudes toward money come from early in life and are not easily relinquished. Also, they may not appreciate that money and control over it often heighten a person's sense of autonomy in the face of physical and social losses that accompany age.
QUESTION: I am writing you in desperation. My 45-year-old sister was recently diagnosed as having diabetes. Somehow, the idea of the illness is driving her wild. She's contemplating going to Brazil for some type of cure and is also considering using bee secretions and juniper berries, largely ignoring conventional medical advice. How can I help her?
ANSWER: It is unfortunate that your sister is having such a difficult time accepting her illness and is not working with qualified medical personnel to manage her diabetes. Diabetes, a condition in which an individual's body is unable to convert sugars and starches into usable energy, is incurable. But with appropriate medical treatment, it can be managed and the diabetic can resume a normal life.
Diet, exercise and either insulin injections or medications taken by mouth are the main approaches to treatment of diabetes. Most patients whose diabetes starts in their 40s or later can maintain a near-normal blood-sugar level without insulin injections. Those who ignore medical advice about diabetes risk their lives and jeopardize their health.
Your sister needs help accepting her illness. Consider consulting her physician or minister for assistance. Also, the American Diabetes Association can provide helpful information. Contact the association's national office (1669 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314, 800-232-3472) for referrals to local chapters.