More popular than George Clooney. More in demand than Kelly Clarkson. These hard-to-fill specialties are the wave of the future.
By Mary Ellen Flannery and John Rosales
Just bask in the glow for a minute. You—the reading teacher, the security guard, the physics geek—you’re hot! With a growing shortage of teachers and other professionals on the horizon nationally, you should enjoy that sought-after status. As always, special education teachers, as well as math and science specialists, are among the most in demand, but so are a lot of other folks. So, who’s the big man on campus now? It just might be you.
On the Road to Peace
Forty students have signed up for Karima Belemlih’s Introduction to Arabic class next year—nearly twice as many as she can accept. But that’s just the kind of interest that the U.S. Department of Defense wants to see. In their eyes, Belemlih is doing a heckuva job.
Less than 2 percent of American students study Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Korean, Japanese, Russian, or Chinese, all critical languages in the new world economy and political landscape. A new National Security Language Initiative, unveiled in January, aims to boost those numbers dramatically by pumping millions of dollars into teacher education and other training programs.
In the meantime, it’s not easy to find an Arabic teacher. Belemlih, originally from Morocco, was hired at Suffield High School in Connecticut to teach French. Her administrators were thrilled to get a second language (without paying for a second teacher). And she was delighted to get a chance to teach her language and culture.
With its non-Western alphabet and way of writing, it’s not easy. (Did you know Arabic sentences don’t always need verbs?) But Belemlih knows her students appreciate the challenge, and likewise, she relishes the opportunity to show them a world beyond the nightly news. “When they see me, they don’t see a stereotypical Arab person,” she says.
A High-Tech Solution
You want me to integrate technology into my lesson plans? When? How? While teachers keep up with the latest in their subject areas, it’s not easy to become a tech specialist, too.
The solution? Get a Givler.
A Givler will work with you—check out your curriculum and then invite you and your students into a tech lab where an appropriate, integrated lesson awaits. “That’s where the hot jobs are,” says Dave Givler, who does exactly this kind of work at the Arts Impact Middle School in Columbus, Ohio.
At his school, there is no “technology” class. Instead, Givler collaborates with every member of the academic teams, “with the notion that [tech] is absolutely embedded in all of the curricula.”
“Here’s a possibility,” he writes in a recent memo to a social studies colleague. “Each team of students would be responsible for finding out certain facts about a country. Population is good. So is GDP….It would be entered into a database, and then we could have Excel analyze the data.”
As tech literacy is demanded of more people, including your students, the questions are: “How do you get meaningful technology into established schools? How do you make it work?” asks Givler. The answer: Hire somebody like him.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
To become a great prekindergarten teacher, you need “patience, lots of patience,” laughs Jacinth Gurdon, at Poinciana Elementary in Kissimmee, Florida. Plus, a knack for creating structure and a good singing voice won’t hurt either.
"You have to be that nurturing person who does all the singing— everything is a song!"
But once you’ve accomplished that—and fear not, 3-year-olds rank enthusiasm much more highly than tone—you’ll be very popular.
As many school systems respond to testing pressure by pushing more demanding curricula into younger grades (kindergarten is the new first grade, you may have heard), and as public policy-makers realize that early education is an effective way of preventing later problems, prekindergarten programs are growing across the country.
This summer, Florida’s 4-year-olds will be enrolling in vast numbers to meet that state’s new universal prekindergarten initiative. Nationally, between 2002 and 2003, the number of children in state-funded preschool grew by 6 percent.
So you’ll have a job, and what’s more, a very rewarding one. “It just doesn’t compare,” says Gurdon, who previously taught fourth and fifth grades, but was urged to accept her new position by district officials. “It was the best decision I made—the growth that I’ve seen!”
Diana Ogawa is retiring next year, after 36 years as a speech-language pathologist in California’s public schools. Who’s going to take her place?
Probably not any young pup with a nose for money. Choosing public schools over private practice doesn’t make much financial sense. “When you think ‘speech and language,’ most people probably think public schools—but it’s wide open,” Ogawa says. “You could go to a hospital, nursing home, private practice….”
And often, they do. Last year, 62 percent of speech-language pathologists reported that job openings in their school district were more numerous than job seekers, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In California, where Ogawa splits her time between three San Mateo County high schools, the shortage is particularly acute.
Toss in a few budget cuts over the years and Ogawa has a caseload of about 88 kids this year, far more than ideal. “There are some days when it starts the minute you walk in and just doesn’t let up until you leave,” she laughs. Still, with great training, she makes it work.
And it’s a fantastic job, she promises. Every student offers a different challenge, and the pathology behind each problem is exciting—think CSI! Plus, when it comes down to it, Ogawa says, “it’s all about people.”
When x Equals U
With President Bush calling for 70,000 new teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science, the numbers are pretty clear.
It’s that high-level math teacher, specifically the one who understands the limit of a function as it approaches a constant, who will be our next American Idol. As more students take algebra in middle school, more are signing up for college-level math in high school.
Mary Lappan, who teaches “both flavors of calculus”—that’s regular and multivariable for you English majors—at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, has seen “enormous growth in AP classes.”
Part of it may be the middle school algebra phenomenon, but Lappan also points to “more equity in terms of girls. You used to see girls funneled out of, or choosing not to take, high-level math. Now it’s encouraged.”
Lappan also predicts a need for more elementary math and science specialists. If the United States wants to be competitive, it’s not good enough to have an elementary teacher who loves reading but muddles through math. Of course, the problem is, most college math or science majors can make a lot more money in private industry. And those numbers just don’t add up.
Cultural Ties That Bind
Miriam Medina calls herself a “go-between”—the link between non-English-speaking families and their schools—but she might as well call herself the Go-To Queen, considering just how frequently she’s called on to serve the growing Latino community in her New Jersey district.
With Latinos accounting for 40 percent of U.S. population growth between 1990 and 2000 and immigrant families making up the fastest-growing segment of the school population nationwide, Medina’s work as an education support professional is highly coveted. “We need language translators at all levels—teacher, secretary, security, custodial,” she says.
Medina, who is the only bilingual program and parent coordinator in Lakewood, helps translate student evaluation reports, report cards, and health reports in the district’s six schools. She also helps parents communicate with housing contractors and landlords. As a recent PTA president, who conducted meetings in English and Spanish, she boosted parent involvement there, too. “As a Latina, parents are less shy with me.”