We're in a strange place with our current economic situation. Teachers everywhere are losing their jobs as school districts are forced to make budget cuts. Yet, there is still a shortage of teachers qualified to fill positions teaching core subjects and special education, especially in low-income and minority schools. There is also a need to train future teachers to fill the spots of retiring baby boomers.
How to fill the gap?
In previous years when teacher shortages were more widespread, many states promoted alternative certification programs. These programs are for professionals from other fields who are granted temporary certification in the subject closest to their college degree. They take night and weekend courses in educational psychology, methods, and ethics. When their courses are complete, they take the same certification tests taken by education majors and when they pass, they receive their certification.
In addition to these lateral entry teachers, school districts also recruited those people who received education degrees but did not go into teaching. They also sought those who had left or retired from teaching and convinced them come back into the classroom. This allowed districts to save money by recruiting people who already had the necessary education and certifications to teach. In some cases, they were able to convince retired master teachers to come out of retirement.
Where are all the good teachers?
The problem we have in our country is not necessarily a teacher shortage, but a problem in teacher distribution. There remains a need for teachers in special education, science, math, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL/ESL). In areas of the country that are under maximum class size legislation, more teachers are needed. Teachers are especially needed in low-income and minority schools as well as schools in remote rural areas.
Teaching in these schools is sometimes seen as undesirable. They're low-income neighborhoods with low parent involvement. Students have not had much success in school and can be behavior problems. Teaching is a challenge, but in these schools it can be even more challenging.
How can we attract new teachers?
The government gives perks to teachers in the form of student loan aid. In some cases, payment is deferred and in other cases they pay off the student loans of teachers who commit to work for a certain number of years in these schools. There are also bonuses for teachers who willingly transfer to a low-performing school, sometimes up to $10,000 for a multiple-year contract.
Perhaps the question is not how we can find more teachers, but how can we keep the good teachers in our schools? Our colleges and universities have trained up a generation of teachers and our public school system needs to focus on providing support and quality working conditions for these professionals so they will stay in the profession and touch the lives of children for decades.
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- A.S. - Early Childhood Education