June 24, 2008

Retiring Baby Boomers Leave Schools With Big Shoes to Fill


Susanne MacArthur says it won't be easy to stay away from school next fall.

The daughter of a South Portland High School English teacher and the mother of a South Portland High English teacher, MacArthur is retiring this month from her own 32-year teaching career, largely spent as a South Portland High English teacher.

She already has volunteered to help seniors write their college essays in the fall, conduct tours of the school and even lick envelopes if need be.

"I cannot sever my ties with this place," said MacArthur, a member of the South Portland High School Class of 1964.

MacArthur is among scores of baby boomers who are retiring from Maine's public schools this summer. These teachers, administrators and support personnel entered the education sector in the 1960s and 1970s, when mimeograph machines, chalk and blackboards still ruled. They are leaving classrooms now equipped with white dry-erase boards, computers and phones.

When they started out, education was undergoing big changes. Inquiry-based teaching methods were replacing rote memorization. The passage of sweeping new federal laws were mandating public education for disabled students and equal spending on women's athletics.

"Back then, there were no computers and iPods. The kids seem to grow up a little bit faster," said Kathleen Rossi, 62, who is retiring as principal of Portland's Lincoln Middle after 40 years in education.

Today, teachers between the ages of 50 and 59 make up the largest group. With so many teachers reaching retirement age, there could be shortages in coming years, say some education analysts.

"There is that potential," said David Silvernail, director of the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine.

But Silvernail said it is difficult to project because some teachers may choose to continue teaching after reaching retirement. In fact, there has been a 4 percent increase in teachers 60 and older in the past decade. A declining student population also complicates the forecast, said Silvernail.

Mark Gray, executive director of the Maine Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, said it is not clear whether Maine is going to be as well-positioned as other New England states to lure new teachers to replace the baby boomers. Maine salaries lag behind the rest of the region.

"If you are a student about to enter the profession and do any kind of research, Maine is not going to be an attractive place," he said.

But interest in education as a career is robust, said Anne Pooler, interim dean of the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development.

Next year's incoming class is larger than last year's, and 50 of the 800 education majors are training in math and science - teachers in those areas have traditionally been scarce - up from fewer than 10 a couple of decades ago. Even so, modern languages and special- education teachers remain in short supply.

On a personal level, many retiring teachers and other school personnel say their departures are bittersweet. This fall will be the first autumn that Carol Boyd hasn't gone back to school in decades.

A third-grade teacher at Kennebunkport Consolidated School, Boyd started teaching right out of college in 1969. She said she always told herself she would retire at 70, which she is about to do.

She has scheduled a trip with friends sailing down to Chesapeake Bay around the time school starts to keep her mind off the fact that her school days have finally ended.

"I am going to feel it," she said.

"This has been a dream job," said Janet Holden who just stepped away from her job as Longfellow Elementary School secretary after 25 years.

She said she loved that each day was unpredictable. At one moment, she might be conducting the lunch count; the next, trying to round up a student's escaped dog on the playground or performing a little first aid.

"It's never boring," said Holden who is turning 60 this year.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Originally published by By BETH QUIMBY Staff Writer.

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