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State education leaders tour New York to praise and recruit teachers

Teaching is one of those great professions that have the capacity to impact lives. For many people, it is more a calling than just a job.

Teachers make an indelible mark on the minds of young people that lasts a lifetime. There are a number of people who have written eloquently about the positive impact of teachers in their lives, including a recent Another Voice by SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner.

Yes, the profession has come under quite a bit of scrutiny. Testing has been a hot-button issue.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to truly know where students’ strengths and weaknesses lie without testing. By the same token, it is difficult to know how well the teacher is teaching without measurements.

None of these factors should discourage someone interested in pursuing the field. Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, and MaryEllen Elia, commissioner of the state Education Department, have embarked upon the challenging task of convincing potential teachers of this fact.

The two leaders – in what is being touted as an unprecedented partnership between SUNY and the state Education Department “to collectively address a significant and growing teacher shortage” – were recently at the University at Buffalo South Campus on Main Street on the fourth stop of their statewide “listening tour” for the new TeachNY initiative. The campaign is promoting the teaching profession, which is necessary as baby boomers retire and millennials choose other fields.

New York will need 6 percent more teachers by 2022, or about 1,700 teachers a year, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor. Western New York will need 4 percent more teachers by 2022, or an additional 90 teachers a year.

The UB Graduate School of Education has launched its own program to recruit top students to enter the profession. SUNY Buffalo State has a tradition of training teachers.

Teaching was never known to be lucrative, although the health care and pension benefits package has been the object of private-sector envy as health care costs have risen and pensions disappeared. But the work is hard.

It is not an easy nine months or so with lazy summers. The requirements for teachers are high – usually, a minimum of a master’s degree and continued education. And then there are the lesson plans, parent-teacher conferences and long hours spent grading papers and exams. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. How many teachers – urban, suburban and rural – purchase school supplies using their own hard-earned money?

But there are also huge rewards, including the student, now an adult, who recognizes his teacher in a chance encounter at a store or restaurant and gushes about what a difference her dedication made. How it changed the student’s life and put him on the right path.

Zimpher and Elia will no doubt make a convincing case when it comes to the priceless gift teaching offers: the ability to impact lives.

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