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Teaching profession goes wanting as college graduates go elsewhere

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Relying more on uncertified instructors, schools struggling with teacher shortages find college graduates are forsaking education for higher paying professions, a major teachers union reports.

Beginning teachers made on average $25,735 in 1997-98, compared with new college graduates earning $42,862 in engineering and $40,920 in computer science, according to the survey being released Monday by the American Federation of Teachers.The national average for all teachers in the 1997-98 school year was $39,347, according to the union. In other professional fields, lawyers earned $71,530, engineers made $64,489, and computer systems analysts drew an average paycheck of $63,072.

"Teaching is enormously gratifying, and many more would make it their career choice if they felt they were treated like professionals," said Sandra Feldman, president of the country's second-largest teachers union.

Feldman said districts wanting to attract and retain teachers must also reduce class sizes, enforce strict discipline policies, modernize school buildings and make other improvements.

Districts have begun offering signing bonuses and housing allowances, as well as issuing emergency teaching credentials, the survey found.

The report said 8.5 percent of teachers taught under temporary or emergency credentials in 1998-99, up from 8 percent in 1997-98.

The AFT and the Clinton administration have pushed states and districts to end emergency teacher credentials.

The administration has proposed that within four years, 95 percent of all teachers in a state would have to be fully certified or working toward obtaining certification within three years.

The salary reports comes as the Education Department estimates schools will need to hire 2.2 million teachers over the next decade.

The union also surveyed personnel officers in the nation's 200 largest school districts, and found that low salaries, an aging teacher force and rising enrollments were the leading reasons for the teacher shortage.

School officials reported teacher shortages, especially in large urban districts. More than two-thirds of respondents said they did not have enough teacher applicants for the 1998-99 school year.

The school officials who hire teachers also said that districts had more trouble this year than four years ago in attracting qualified teachers. Shortages were most severe for special education, math and bilingual teachers.

The five states with the highest average teacher salaries were Connecticut ($51,727), New Jersey ($50,284), New York ($48,712), Michigan ($48,361) and Alaska ($48,275).

The bottom five states in 1997-98 were New Mexico ($30,309), Louisiana ($30,090), Mississippi ($28,691), North Dakota ($28,231) and South Dakota ($27,839).

Sources for the union's report included state education departments and the Education Department's survey of teacher salaries.