As teachers and students prepare for the new school year, many school administrators are scrambling to fill vacancies, and some are already putting into place contingency plans for unfilled teaching positions. Some states have passed legislation to allow school districts to recruit unqualified personnel, despite the wealth of research showing that the single most significant factor in student achievement is teacher quality. Bear in mind that teacher quality is even more important for the students who need the most attention, like multilingual learners. Instead of politicians coming up with desperate solutions to the teacher shortage, we should all be listening to teachers and finding out what they need to thrive in their chosen profession.
Florida is the latest state to resort to extreme measures to “lower the barriers” for teachers to enter the profession. The Sunshine State’s new Military Veteran Certification Pathway allows veterans with at least 48 months of active-duty service and a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA to apply for a five-year temporary certificate allowing them to teach in schools. Also last month, Arizona passed a bill that allows schools to hire educators still seeking bachelor’s degrees, although it appears not to allow schools to hire those individuals as teachers of record. Over the last few years, at least twelve states have lowered requirements to become a fully certified teacher.
Surveys indicate that the current teacher shortage is driven by resignations and attrition. A national survey by EdWeek found that 54% of teachers said they were likely to leave the profession within the next two years. In the same survey, less than half of the respondents felt that the general public respected them and saw them as professionals.
Of course, inadequate pay rates are the reason many teachers leave, but those can be remedied relatively quickly given the right political climate. Indeed, some states are responding to the shortage by increasing teacher pay quite significantly. However, the public’s misperception of teachers, largely created by anti-union politicians and right-leaning media, will take longer to fix and may have a more structural effect in its suppression of graduates entering the profession.
Advocates for easier entry into teaching claim that reducing requirements will increase teacher diversity and that it’s the only way to get positions filled. However, without the right pay, conditions, and respect for their expertise, recruiting good teachers will be an uphill struggle, and keeping them will be even harder.
In the long term, to encourage the best graduates into teaching, we need to elevate the profession and provide more training and support, not less. Diluting the profession by admitting unqualified teachers to solve the immediate crisis will only make that harder, so other solutions should be considered, such as fast-track, intensive training programs, re-recruiting ex-teachers, or even recruiting overseas.
Well-qualified teachers should be treated as the professionals they are, be rewarded accordingly, and be heard.
Daniel Ward, Editor