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Commentary: Addressing Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage crisis

The budget for Pennsylvania was due on June 30.  It is July 10, so obviously the date has come and gone without a budget for the coming fiscal year.  Taking advantage of that fact, I am once again writing about a pressing issue in the state of Pennsylvania — the lack of students majoring in the field of education causing a severe lack of teachers for our schools statewide.

There has been a significant decline in the number of students choosing to major in education over the past 20 years. This information has been gathered by the College Board report, and three different national surveys. Teaching seems to lack the working conditions that our current young people are looking for in a career.

They are looking for opportunities for advancement based on demonstrated competency, a team environment and responsibility for their organization’s success, desire to work for an employer that is speaking up for or addressing social justice issues, and would leave the job if it interfered with their personal lives or didn’t align with their views on social and environmental issues.  (Source: Business Insider, 2022)

According to a national survey, the prestige of a teaching profession has been declining in recent years.  The peak of teaching having “considerable prestige” was in 1998 at 78%, and in 2022 that rating was down to 59%. In 2022, only 37% of parents wanted their children to become a teacher down from above 65% in 1998. Other issues are burnout, low pay, politics through school boards and state mandates, and no chance for advancement except administrative jobs which take an entirely different skill set. These issues need to be addressed and can be dealt with if creative minds are involved.

How can we, as Pennsylvanians, as adults, as people of thoughtfulness and intelligence, allow this critical career choice flounder as it is? Educators are some of the most important people in our children’s lives, and care for them, teach them, lead them, help them, mentor and nurture them for most of the day Monday to Friday. We allow these people to care for the things that are most precious to us, but do not seek to see that their needs are met.

There are answers to this dilemma.  Some suggestions are:

• “Grow your own.” Put more emphasis on growing future teachers within your own school district. Put money into dual enrollment programs through community colleges or nearby 4-year colleges so the cost of education is cut down and students can earn college credits during their high school years. Seek funding for this through foundations, businesses, private donors, fundraisers, and other sources.

• Student teachers should be paid for their work just as other fields pay their interns. Currently, students must pay tuition to a college for the privilege of student teaching, and then these same students teach for free. Certification exam costs should be subsidized, and loan forgiveness should be implemented for these students. The state of Pennsylvania should pay for all of this to stem the crisis in which we find ourselves.

• Teacher pay must become competitive with other fields requiring a bachelor’s degree. The law in Pennsylvania requires teachers to attain 24 post graduate credits within the first three years of teaching, which is close to a master’s degree requirement. Currently, that means they are more highly educated, but paid much less than other fields requiring less education.

• Career Pathways for Education should be created within high schools to develop skills in literacy, research, cultural awareness, and technology through coursework and field experience. Students interested in teaching should be given the opportunity to observe other classes, other grade levels, and make comparisons on which grade levels they are curious. Job shadowing and mentoring should be available to students in their junior and senior years of high school.

• Career ladders should be established within school districts allowing for advancement of teachers. Roles such as lead teacher, mentor teacher, subject area coaches, and subject area curriculum directors, should be created to allow movement for teachers within school districts without leaving behind the art and science of teaching. These skills can then be shared with any educator by master teachers, making each educator better in their chosen field.

These ideas for enhancing the career of education would go a long way in attracting those with the skills and desire for such a career.

Dr. Myra Forrest is a lifelong educator, former school superintendent and currently education advocate for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.    


Source: Berkshire mont

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