Special to the Cape Charles Mirror by John T. Ordeman
In the accompanying article on the teaching staffs of the Accomack and Northampton County Public Schools, I identified the difficulty that the school systems have in retaining faculty, particularly those who have come from off the Shore, as one of the major problems facing our school Boards and administrators. The primary problem, obviously, is financial, for the salaries offered by our schools are very substantially less than those in neighboring areas. Our supervisors and School Board members are aware of this problem, but they have not addressed it directly and given it the priority of attention required to solve it. Our school administrators’ ability to hire the best available teachers must be limited by the simple fact that these people can make substantially more money elsewhere. I suggest that the salary scale be amended to raise, by a substantial amount, the salaries of teachers in the first ten years of their employment — from $32,000 to $40,000 for a promising young person just out of college and that the incentives and opportunities for them to improve their professional qualifications be increased.
I don’t mean to disparage in any way the people who teach in our schools, but I do believe that in hiring new teachers, we should put ourselves in the position of being able to compete for the best. Would you choose to go to a second-rate doctor or dentist because his fees were lower than those charged by one who is first-rate? I believe Eastern Shore citizens would not object to a tax increase if they knew that the money would be used to make teacher salaries fair and competitive.
The second major problem for teacher retention is the dissatisfaction some teachers moving to the Shore have with the lack of amenities and social activities that they are used to finding in other less rural areas. That anyone would not be delighted to be able to enjoy the Eastern Shore life style may surprise and bewilder those of us who feel privileged to be able to live here, but Eastern Shore life is obviously not for everyone. We know, however that young people who have grown up on the Shore would, for the most part, choose to live here if they could find suitable employment. We often hear, however, of graduates of our high schools who, having earned college degrees, are unable to find jobs that match their interests and meet their financial needs here on the Shore. What about teaching?
I think that we could alleviate both of the major problems of teacher recruiting and retention if we could persuade our young people who have the qualities one looks for in a superior teacher to consider making a career in the teaching profession. Here is my suggestion: call it the Teacher Intern Program. Teachers and administrators in our high schools would identify several seniors who they think have the ability and the personal qualities they believe are required of an excellent teacher. These students would be invited to meet with a selection committee, who would explain the requirements of the Student Intern Program and encourage them to apply. The students who were selected as interns would be required to pursue a course of study in college that would lead to teacher certification. They could major in education or in an academic field in which they would be interested in teaching, and they would receive a stipend of $2,500 each year that they were in college, so long as they maintained a satisfactory record and continued in an appropriate course of study. The interns would be guaranteed that, upon graduation, they would be offered a teaching position in the schools of the county that had sponsored them, and they would receive a signing bonus of $5,000 when they accepted a three-year contract.
The intem program would, I believe, be an effective means of encouraging well-qualified students to choose teaching as their profession. An additional advantage to our schools would be the fact that the teachers hired through this process would be young people who know the Eastern Shore and want to live here. The investment of $15,000 would, t believe, be money very well-spent.
My third and, for the time being at least, final suggestion is for an effort to be made by the community to make the new teachers who come from other areas feel welcome on the Eastern Shore and learn to appreciate all that the area offers so that they will want to stay here and become a permanent members of their schools’ faculties. The new-comers could be given complimentary tickets to ESO’s Shore Made Music Festival and the ballets and to the performances sponsored by ACES and Arts Enter. Restaurants could offer vouchers for a free dinner. They could be given free admission passes to the Barrier Island Center and Ker Place. Southeast Expeditions could offer a kayak tour of the barrier islands with a picnic lunch. CBES could offer free registration for the Between-the-Waters Bike Tour. Churches or civic groups could put on welcoming suppers. There are many things that community organizations could do to help those who come here, finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and knowing no one, feel they are among people who appreciate their being here and want to demonstrate their appreciation with friendship.
The ability of our schools to recruit and retain excellent teachers is essential to their being abte to offer a high quality educational experience to our children. The offering of a high quality educational experience to our children is an obligation of all citizens of the Eastem Shore. We must all, therefore, insist that our schools are staffed with excellent teachers, and we must all be willing to do what is required, financially and through other means of support, to achieve that goal.