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How do we keep our teachers in the classroom?

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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher strike has come to a close, the most recent of what has been a regular occurrence throughout 2018 and into 2019. From West Virginia to California, teachers have walked out of classrooms to demand improved wages, smaller class sizes, and less standardized testing, among other needs.

These legitimate problems contribute to another larger one that could paralyze education: our nationwide teacher shortage. As we move forward, we need to explore not only how we keep teachers in the classroom, but how we get more teachers in the door to begin with.

{mosads}The teacher shortage crisis is two-fold, one of recruitment and one of retention. The Learning Policy Institute reported back in 2016 that the attrition rate of teachers is around 8 percent in the United States, double the rates of other well-educated countries around the world. It’s even higher for new teachers and those teaching in high-poverty schools. In addition, the report found that between 2009 and 2014, enrollment in teacher education programs decreased by 35 percent.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, the number one reason teachers report for leaving was dissatisfaction with the pressures of increased testing and accountability.

Some people mistakenly think teachers don’t want to be held accountable or do the work, but what they really believe is that standardized testing is not always the best way to assess students’ mastery of subject matter or evaluate teachers. For those teaching younger children, they feel the amount of testing can be excessive and not always developmentally appropriate, causing unnecessary anxiety for children and parents.

While we deal with the attrition and a decreased pipeline, the demand for teachers is rising. School districts want to replace teachers they cut during the recession; more and more schools are working to increase hiring in an effort to lower student to teacher ratios; and as early education is being seen as a way to close the achievement gap and better prepare students for academic success, more schools are adding preschool to their campuses, increasing the need for credentialed teachers in early education.

Schools are having increasing trouble filling open positions, especially in science, mathematics and special education. The way that some schools are responding is with emergency or short-term teaching licenses and by filling positions with teachers who are not credentialed for the subject area they are asked to teach. Neither of these strategies fix the need for quality teachers who will stay in the classroom. Research shows that teachers who are fully prepared for the classroom stay in the profession and have the training that prepares children for success.

One way to address the teacher shortage crisis is to create policies and systems to support teacher recruitment and retention. The National Center on Education and the Economy highlights ways other countries are tackling this problem. Some are addressing it through increasing teacher pay to be on par with other highly desirable professions.

Others are coordinating national investments to target geographic areas or subject matter areas that are experiencing the most significant shortages. In these countries, teacher candidates get stipends, grants, and scholarships instead of incurring additional student loan debt.

In my experience working with prospective teachers, I have encountered college students completing their bachelor’s degree who have an interest and a desire to teach, but who can’t afford the additional student loan debt necessary to earn the master’s degree and/or teaching credentials/licensure required for them to enter the classroom. Others have shared that the low pay they would receive, particularly as early education teachers, prevented them from continuing to pursue teaching as a career.

The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future found that supporting teachers in their first few years with professional development increases the likelihood that teachers will stay in the field. It also found that providing professional development opportunities to veteran teachers increases their skill development and job satisfaction. All of which contributes to keeping teachers in the classroom.

I have watched numerous young adults find their purpose in the classroom. Around 4,000 college students participate in Jumpstart’s early education service program annually. They come from all majors and have a wide variety of interest they are pursuing. But less than a third of our alumni go on to earn teaching credentials. How many more might take this route if they had more support?

Our local, state and federal representatives need to address this crisis so teachers don’t have to spend their days picketing in the streets instead of teaching in classrooms.

And for all the teachers reading this, we value all that you do and honor you for it; we don’t say it, or show it, enough.

Atalaya Sergi is the vice president of strategic partnerships & programming at Jumpstart and an encore Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

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