Who Will Teach?

Historical Perspectives on the Changing Appeal of Teaching as a Profession

by Michael W. Sedlak, Steven L. Schlossman


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This report examines the desirability of teaching as a career, from a historical perspective. Focusing on the profession's economic reward structure and social composition, the study attempts to guide future case-study research. Teaching has become a far more desirable occupation during the twentieth century. Teachers today enjoy more freedom and autonomy than did their nineteenth-century predecessors. Nevertheless, it has always been difficult to recruit talented teachers and to retain those willing to give teaching a try. Until recently, the availability of relatively well-qualified women eased recurrent teacher shortages and provided a cushion that allowed districts to keep financial incentives low. But as women have begun to exploit career opportunities in other fields, they no longer constitute a captive labor pool for the teaching profession. The desirability of teaching as an occupation may soon be put to its most serious test, as school districts compete for labor in an increasingly open market.

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