The Recession and Education: New Opportunities

by Alan Haskvitz

National Teachers Hall of Fame

It has been said the life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

Anais Nin

The teaching profession has long been thought of as recession proof. Indeed, that may have been one of the reasons that teachers took far lower starting salaries out of college. Probably the greatest common feature of teachers, besides their desire to serve society in a humanitarian way, is the lack of risk taking that the occupation of used to offer. Many times the greatest risk was simply moving from one district to another. Today’s economic condition has changed that perception, especially for new teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that between 100,000 to 300,000 could be laid-off. And that has given rise of legislation, such as that sponsored by California State Senator Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, California, that would enable a district to essentially by-pass seniority as a bases for sending out termination notes.

More Educated Teachers

Thus new teachers are swimming in a fiercely competitive applicant pool thanks to the recession. So what is the benefit of this reduced job market? Districts are looking for teachers with a variety of certifications. The benefits to those who can afford to stay in school longer are educators with a greater ability to make connections to students by calling on their additional training to integrate lessons more easily and to provide a greater variety of learning experiences to students. Previously this was mainly obtained through teaching for a number of years and building a portfolio of ideas, aids, and other resources. Staying in college to gain more certifications can build a more well rounded teacher. The beneficiaries are both the students and the teacher. For example, my last student teacher went back to school during her year-long practice teaching class and earned a certification in science. Within weeks she was hired because she had two qualifications. Student teachers must be aware that they have limited usability if they don’t have multiple certificatins that abid by the stipulations in No Child Left Behind. So the recession may help new teachers become more complete teachers.

Private School Exodus

Next is the fact that the recession is causing families to rethink private schools. In my area there is a private school that charges over $30,000 a year in tuition. Of course, most parents who can afford that are seldom impacted by the recession, but for those looking for ways to make budget cuts an expensive private school may be the first to go. The recipient of these new students are likely public schools. Since most schools are paid by the government based on enrollment, this means that some teaching jobs could be saved as the numbers increase. This is already happening, according to government data, with over 100,000 students making the move into the public system.

More Parent Help

The recession may also help make school districts more user friendly to parents. Public school districts don’t want to lose students because the lost revenue forces them to make cuts and that is never popular with the voters, not to mention the unions. This would be an ideal time for progressive school districts to actually come up with a plan to market public schools to homeschoolers and those with children in private schools. At least one school district has even seen advertisements touting its schools run in a foreign country. There is also the rich opportunity for schools to reach out to parents who are unemployed as a source of help in a variety of roles.

Mentoring and Tutoring

Extracurricular programs can also be cut due to the recession. Coaches, art and music teachers, and even foreign language education may eliminated. This opens up the opportunity for teachers to look to the community to start classes and, perhaps, even earn extra money from that venture. Just as importantly, it could offer teachers the opportunity to make contacts in the community. Without a school program, or with a slenderized elective schedule parents may be willing to pay for lessons in tennis, music, learn another language, or for a tutor. The recession presents a rich opportunity for teachers to work in the community and, very importantly, for the community to get to know the teachers. This build stronger support for public schools. The recession may be of benefit because it is forcing some out of their comfort zone. Instead of closing the classroom door to teach they are opening it for society to see the person behind the door. .

More use of Technology

The recession also means less funds for support materials. Extra textbooks, remedial workbooks, videos, and the like may be wish list items for back to school night. But this represents an extraordinary opportunity for teachers to more fully explore technology. Not expensive technology, but good, easy to fix and maintain stuff. I highly recommend every school move to Open Software computers and servers. I went to one of the world leaders in this regard, http://www.eracks.com and asked them what would they recommend. They set up an inexpensive program that could save school districts millions in software user fees. And the equipment is quieter, too. What the recession means is that it is time to rethink high tech recommendations and bid writing that excludes these less expensive options. As an aside, why not let the teachers who are going to use the purchases write the bids?

Free Stuff on the Internet

Another plus for the recession is opening up the Internet for education purposes on a wider scale. Yes, the Internet has some bad stuff, but there are superior sites such as http://www.watchknow.org that has editors that help insure the 20,000 free video are of good quality. There are no registration fees, and there is even a button you can click on that shows those videos that are most likely not blocked by school districts. In other words, the recession is offering teachers the opportunity to find a variety of free resources that they can use to supplement and even replace materials they can no longer afford. I created a website, http://www.reacheverychild.com,that helps with that as well. It has 200 features that includes free materials for teachers on everything from copyright violations to free printables. The recession is offering teachers the rich opportunity to harvest a new batch of resources to help reach a more technological savvy student.

Richer Retirement Options

The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that in the next eight years, 2.8 million teachers are needed due to higher class sizes and retirements. The recession could well throw these statistics out of kilter, but the reality is that the school districts are going to come up with better enticement packages to get teachers off their books. Offering them everything from severance packages for tens of thousands of dollars to a bonus to pay for health insurance until they are eligible for government health care have been brought to the table. Teachers close to retirement could find they could make more by not teaching. This opens the door for new teachers, obviously, but the recession is good for these older teachers as well. A side benefit to this exodus are the materials these educators could donate or sell to younger teachers. Imagine being able to buy resources that an educator has collected over 30 years for a few dollars. And, most likely, the teacher will probably just live them in the room or offer them for a nominal fee online.http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/trade.html

Environmental Income

The recession helps the environment and recycling efforts as well. Cans, bottles, papers, even printing cartridges can be brought to centers for school funds. At my school two hard working teachers even created a conservation club that harvests these recyclables and sell them for school related items. The kids are not only learning the value of recycling, but are becoming spokespeople to others at the school and at home. The recession has even helped the local water district work with the school to create a demonstration drought tolerant garden so that the community can see what the plants look like and how they can save water and thus money as more people are prone to do in a recession. Water districts in several other states have indicated an interest in their ideas.

Better Nutrition

Registration for the school free lunch programs is accelerated in a recession as parents find themselves in dire straits. The upside of this is that those students shall get at least get one good meal, something that they may not have gotten otherwise. Some schools offer a free breakfast program as well.

Lower Drop-Out Rate

With very little hope for work students are probably thinking of staying in school longer. The idea that they can make money and do their own thing as an incentive to leave school is going to dry-up as the unemployment figures remain high. At present, teenagers have a 25 percent unemployment rate. With no job and very little prospects to live on borrowed money staying in school could look more attractive to potential drop-outs.

More Time

The recession is offering another possible advantage; time. To save money districts are cutting back the school year. Sometimes this is just a few days and other times it is six or more days. The result is that teachers make less money and students get less of an education, but there is more time for both groups to pursue things such as exercising, traveling, going to community events, even taking up a new hobby. The extra time also means the possibility of less stress. That could result in less smoking and drinking. The possibilities of what extra time enables a teacher to do is a personal, but the recession at least opens that possibility. Less time working could also result in reduced stress levels, less driving to work and back, and more time to get things done when normally only the weekends are free during the school year.

Summary

Opportunities abound during this recession. Everything from upgrading skills to being able to buy a house that was unaffordable previously, are all possibilities. Even those teachers who are let go or can’t find a job might feel better knowing they are not alone. But the bottom line is to take the time and the energy and courage to look for that opening door.

“ Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

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