Numerous sources can point to a teacher shortage across the United States, with some areas having a much greater need than others. With some exceptions, Elementary and Social Studies teachers tend to be in greatest supply but in least demand, while the converse is true for Special Education, English Language Learning, Mathematics, and Science teachers. School districts typically have a much harder time filling teaching positions in urban districts, in Title I schools, and in remote rural areas. In many instances, a lack of experienced, qualified teachers in those areas forces districts to fill those classrooms with individuals who may be well-intentioned but lack sufficient training and cultural competence to be successful. Moreover, those districts often fail to provide adequate mentoring and support in the first two years of employment which results in new teachers feeling isolated and without tools to succeed. Consequently, we typically see a high turnover rate in those areas which has a negative impact on students and the local community at-large over time.
Various state departments of education have taken steps to address this problem. California has recently committed $25 million for scholarship money to help alleviate the teacher shortage by using a “grow your own” model. They are distributing this money to 25 school districts and county offices of education to help 5,000 support staff members earn their teaching credentials while continuing to work at their schools. While the idea has some merit, I see big gaps in the approach. Specifically, they are granting funds only to individuals who complete their teaching license requirements at one of the California State University campuses; this severely restricts the type of training these individuals will receive and it only supports the enrollment of those campuses. Moreover, EdSource reports 1,000 eligible employees can get stipends of $4,000 per year over the course of the five-year grant, which could cover all or most of the cost to enroll in those select institutions, depending on how many courses these employees take per semester. Acknowledging it could take up to five years doesn’t make a convincing case that these programs are innovative or cutting edge—in fact they are likely just serving as a feeder into their current programs. So, for continuing business as usual, these institutions are reaping the reward of 1,000 new enrollments and $25 million. The latest initiative proposed in California is to offer teachers who have taught at least 5 years in the state freedom from state income tax. While an interesting idea, I don’t see it encouraging sufficient numbers of individuals to enter or to remain in the teaching profession. Plus, it could have a negative impact on a state already short on cash.
The state of Nevada has attempted to alleviate the teacher shortage, most severe in the Clark County School District located in Las Vegas. School officials in that district, reportedly the third largest in the nation, face the daunting task each year of hiring approximately 2500 teachers. At the time of this writing, there are currently 672 openings for licensed teachers. The Nevada Department of Education approved an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) program designed to alleviate shortages across the state but it seems to be only a partial solution in its present form. What’s of equal concern is that once hired, districts struggle to retain teachers for a variety of reasons.
In addition to approaches that focus on state funding and providing paths to licensure through nontraditional means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently begun looking at teacher preparation itself; staff have initiated statewide conversations amongst educators regarding how new teachers should be prepared. And of course, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has established itself as a national leader on educator quality and preparation through research and rankings of educator preparation programs.
So what’s the answer?
The solution to having an adequate supply of qualified, well-prepared teachers who will positively impact the lives, learning, and development of their students is not simplistic—it is complicated, and that’s why no one has solved it yet. However, I believe one answer lies in how teachers are prepared. While many educator prep programs do a fine job, many do not and new teachers are simply not ready to enter the classroom, hitting the ground running. They have absolutely no idea how to effectively manage a classroom, deal with an angry parent, meet the needs of EVERY learner in their class, and so on. There is an apparent disconnect between what is being taught in colleges of education and the reality of teaching in today’s classrooms. Is one reason because those responsible for preparing those future teachers have little to no current teaching experience themselves? Have they stepped foot in a P-12 classroom in the past five years? Have they cleaned up vomit all over desks and the floor? Have they done before and after school bus duty? Have they had a student arrested in their class? Have they had to bring comfort to a child who is homeless? I think that while credentialed education faculty are well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, their skills may not be what’s needed in today’s classrooms.
I have been developing some specific ideas regarding how to train new educators some of which challenge the current preparation model. I’m working on creating an educator preparation program that could work for new teachers as well as new educational leaders that has features unique to any other program I’ve reviewed. Some would call it an alternative program, but I really don’t like that word and would love to see it disassociated with education preparation. Want to know more? Interested in partnering with me on a project of immense importance that is built from the ground level up on academic excellence? Let me hear from you…
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at www.robertarossfisher.com