Dreaming of being a teacher? Federal grants may help

Do you picture yourself in the future standing in front of about 20 little faces, filling their minds with the information that will make them successful in their lives? If so, teaching may be for you.

There will always be teaching jobs, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for educators will grow an estimated 12% through 2016. This need is fueled by the large number of teachers expected to retire in the next seven years, with the highest demand for elementary education, math, science, reading, special education and foreign languages.

It may even be possible to get funding to help you achieve your goal. The federal government has created the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program offering undergraduate and graduate students up to $4,000 per year for tuition. Students who receive the TEACH grants sign an agreement to serve as a full-time teacher for four years at a low-income school in a high-need field once they're finished with school.

The only downside? It is really a hard job. I know, my husband has been teaching in Milwaukee Public Schools for the last 15 years. The turnover rate is very high, with almost half of new teachers leaving within five years with their passion for teaching extinguished.

They deal with damaged kids, fractured families and unspeakable poverty. At the school where my husband teaches, 100% of the kids meet the poverty requirements to receive free breakfasts and at least a dozen kids are bussed from the homeless shelters. There are very few intact families and many children are being raised by extended family rather than either biological parent.

The kids come to school ill equipped for learning with poor vocabularies, limited attention spans and blunted curiosities unnatural for young children. Too often they arrive exhausted after watching TV until late at night with minimal supervision from an adult. They have difficulty learning to read as they have not had someone read to them before kindergarten.

My husband becomes discouraged as he sees even the brightest children struggle with learning because the school's efforts are not continued in the home. Many of the kids are given the subtle and not so subtle message that being a good student just isn't "cool," so why bother?

Against these odds, there are many, many, dedicated teachers working everyday to make a difference in these kids lives. If you have the energy and commitment, the field can use your talents.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro

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