April 23, 2018
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A teaching moment in a new economy

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

When my daughter was a first-grader at Bangor’s Fourteenth Street School, she declared with all the certainty that a 6-year-old could muster that her life’s plan and her career path were set.

She was to be a kindergarten teacher at Bangor’s smallest neighborhood school and buy a fine home in our West Side neighborhood and surely live happily ever after.

That, of course, was when she was 6 and 7 years old and the greatest loves of her life were her parents, her teachers and her two cats.

Exactly how it is supposed to be.

Though she did finally decide to pursue an education major at the University of Maine at Farmington, I’m pretty sure she is no longer interested in living next door to her father and me.

Of course unless dramatic changes to our economy occur with in the next three years, it is much more likely that she will be living with us, rather than near us, when she graduates.

Right now about 40 percent and some guess up to 60 percent of twentysomethings are moving back in with their parents.

I started thinking about what her life after college might be when I read a news story in which Bangor School Committee member Phyllis Guerette stated that two-thirds of Bangor’s teachers are at or near retirement age.

“That could bode well for her,” my husband noted.

It could, I suppose, and certainly Maine schools like so many private businesses have to figure out ways to get the best and brightest interested in coming to or staying in Maine to begin their careers.

Teacherportal.com is a website that researches teacher salaries across the country and then ranks states as to which are the most “teacher friendly.”

Probably not surprising that Maine is near the bottom.

It ranked 39th for average teacher salary — $40,737 — and 44th for beginning teacher salaries — $26,643.

The website also gives each state a “comfort score,” which is based on beginning and average teacher salaries compared with the state’s cost of living.

From a salary perspective, Maine ranked 47th out of the 50 states.

Not terribly comforting at all.

Now there is nothing wrong with a wise, well-seasoned teacher, but it would appear that Guerette, who just was re-elected on Tuesday, is on the mark with her concerns about attracting young, vibrant and enthusiastic teachers to Bangor to fill those pending vacancies.

In many cities across the country, especially New York and Washington, D.C., fresh-faced college grads — especially those interested in politics, journalism or finance — are working for nothing. Logging long hours doing grunt work for zero money with hopes that a toe in the door eventually will lead them into their dream career.

And of course many of those are among the twentysomethings that are sleeping in their twin-sized bed back at their parents’ home.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show that 12.8 million young adults under the age of 30 are either unemployed, working part-time or working a job that does not require a degree.

Those figures might bode well for Bangor as it continues its attempts to attract new young teachers, despite our state’s low “comfort score.”

We just elected two young men to our City Council, a very real departure from our norm. The social and entertainment venues offered in the city have blossomed in the last couple of years despite a rock-bottom economy.

Those are things that school administrators can point to when wooing prospective young teachers.

While $26,643 isn’t much, it beats working for free, and it just might be enough to rent yourself a small piece of real estate where you can set up your own hand-me-down twin bed.

As for my daughter, who knows, she is 18 after all. There have been discussions about Africa and of late a career involving the wilderness.

I’m pretty sure tucking herself back into her attic bedroom at our house is not on her list of best options.

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