Alabama schools are on the verge of a crisis. There aren't enough teachers in the classroom. There are more than 450 vacancies in schools around the state and the number is expected to rise.
Nationwide, there will be a need for 2.5 million more teachers by 2008. The Alabama Education Association is joining forces with the state to try and put a dent in the problem.
State Education Department Spokesman Ed Crenshaw says two programs are designed to reverse the trend. First, the department and the AEA are establishing more Future Teachers of America clubs in high schools.
Second, the Teach Alabama program gives high school students school credit for internships.
"The students have the opportunity to do mentor-type programs with teachers throughout the state," Crenshaw said. "Hopefully, they will eventually get into the teacher profession and want to stay in Alabama."
What's behind the teacher shortage? Fewer students are choosing education as a career, many current teachers retiring, and some teachers are leaving Alabama for other states that offer higher salaries.
Governor Bob Riley has appointed a commission on quality teaching to come up with its own recommendations. In the meantime, state educators are doing what they can now.
"If we don't, who's going to teach the next generation of young people in the state?" Crenshaw asked.
In Montgomery, the public school system reports only a handful of vacancies. But in Mobile, for instance, there are 100 job openings. Most are for math and science teachers. But Montgomery school officials say music and drama teachers are also in demand.
The state is terming this "Growing Our Own Week." If you're a high school student interested in the teaching profession, you should contact your guidance counselor for more information.