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A Worthy Calling

Her hair is piled atop her head and she is typically wearing a high buttoned dress. She presides over her one-room classroom with firmness while smiling sweetly; and yes, one of her tow-headed, freckle-faced students is handing her an apple.

Norman Rockwell could have painted it. Teachers and apples. The Three R's. A good old American education.  While this scene is something we may long for, it isn't real.

Throughout the United States, and especially here in Texas, we are facing a teacher shortage; and unfortunately a bushel full of apples won't fill the vacancies.

According to figures provided by the State Board for Educator Certification, there are currently 40,000 positions being filled by those who are not adequately certified to teach in their particular classroom. Shortages are especially high in special education, bilingual education, technology, math, and science.

While the school marm of Americana may not apply today, the fact remains that we have children who desperately need dedicated teachers in the classroom.

First Lady Laura Bush, a former school teacher, is leading the way in emphasizing our need for caring and qualified teachers. The emphasis on accountability in both the classroom and in teacher preparation programs will undoubtedly increase, both from the state and federal level. Simply put, education is vitally important to us and to our future.

In the past few years, we have seen the standardized test scores of Texas students improve. Concerted efforts by our schools, administrators, teachers, and the students themselves are being rewarded. The establishment of a statewide curriculum known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or commonly referred to as the TEKS, provides a common expectation of what our students should be taught and what they should master.

Teacher preparation usually takes place in the traditional university-based program; however, a growing number of adults are choosing to make a career change and are participating in alternative education programs which prepare them for teacher certification. In either setting, the TEKS is at the heart of the curriculum, as well as the certification exams.

With a downturn in the economy many educators are predicting higher retention rates. In Texas, we are working diligently to help those in the teaching profession. Pay raises were implemented in 1999, and a statewide health insurance program for public school educators was passed in May. A pilot program for mentoring new teachers has also been implemented with promising results, and a joint committee of State Senators and Representatives are already studying the issue of school finance in preparation for the next legislative session in 2003.

The bottom line, however, is that we need more individuals to join our veteran teachers in the classroom. We need an army of men and women who choose to make a difference in the lives of the next generation.

I salute our educators in Ellis and Hill counties. We are seeing a growing number of school districts and schools achieve exemplary and recognized status.

At the beginning of the school year, I was able to visit the Itasca School District in Hill County. In a town of less than 2000, the Itasca ISD is doing a phenomenal job. The district, which is required to meet the standards for all sub-groups, including African-American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged, achieved exemplary status in each of their schools.

My visit found a dedicated staff which has embraced modern technology effectively. Daily lesson plans are computerized, each teacher is capable of producing power point presentations, and high school students are producing videos to broadcast campus news. The town paper is produced by students at Itasca High School, and when you visit Mrs. Swilley's high school classroom, you can't help but see her passion for science.

The same could be said for Maypearl, Aquilla, and Bynum, who also received exemplary status. In schools across House District 10, I see many teachers who are committed to providing a quality education for our young people.

It is important that we direct our college students and high school seniors to this noble profession. As well, many adults who are looking at a change in careers should consider this worthy calling.

Is teaching a calling? I firmly believe so.

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Political advertising paid for by Jim Pitts Campaign, Sam Meade, Treasurer, 200A North Rogers, Waxahachie, TX 75165.