The Future of Public Teaching

teacher and pupil - U.S. Census Bureau photo

Not yet in focus in the debates about Governor LePage's proposed changes to teachers' retirements is the immediate consequence to staffing within Maine schools.

As the crest of the teachers' demographic now mark sixtieth birthdays, onerous retirement penalties and incentives will precipitate big changes.

With good teachers now caricatured nationally for their presumed greed and incompetence, one may take these reductions as calculated. But, while Sawin Millett has said that the Governor's budget is predicted upon a decrease of 1100 teachers, it seems quite possible that the real reduction could end up much greater.

The Governor proposes, beginning January 1, to require new retirees under the age of 65 to pay the full cost of private health insurance. Under most teachers' pensions, the basic arithmetic will make this prohibitively expensive. So, regardless of the merits of the Governor's plan, you can be certain that most retirement-eligible teachers in the 60-65 age range right now are weighing giving their notice.

At our local school, I estimate that a fifth to a quarter of our teachers are in this category.  These are our most experienced teachers, each one knowledgeable, unflappable, and dependable. At least as importantly, they represent a majority of our teaching leaders, steadying mentors, and policy advisers. Losing them all at once will change our schools significantly.

But we know less about the pool from which we will draw their replacements. With long-term benefits evaporating from public teaching and the satisfaction of the work itself increasingly constrained by narrowing impossible requirements of standardized testing, the ranks of young, talented, energetic idealists entering the teaching profession are also gravely shrinking.

So with the profession returning not only fewer benefits but also waning pleasure, where will we find these fresh aces who will fulfill the Governor's charge that we make Maine’s schools the best in the nation?