Pennsylvania will need thousands of new teachers by 2025, according to the state Department of Education, and it is fighting an uphill battle to get there amid a national teacher shortage intensified by the pandemic and widespread teacher burnout.
The state Department of Education presented a roadmap on Monday to bolster its number of teachers over the next three years, pledging to act immediately to stem its “teacher workforce crisis,” exemplified by the number of teachers it alone certifies: Ten years ago, Pennsylvania certified 20,000 teachers; last year it issued credentials to just 6,000 people.
Combine that 70% decline with a higher rate of educators leaving the profession, and the supply of available teachers is “one of the most pressing challenges facing our schools,” said Eric Hagerty, secretary at Pennsylvania Acting Education.
“Teaching is the profession that frees up the workforce for all other professions, so we need to find ways to encourage more people to answer the call and come into the classroom,” Hagerty said during of a press conference in Harrisburg.
Over the next three years, officials said they would aim to increase the number of students enrolled in Pennsylvania teacher preparation programs from 18,000 to 21,600 and reduce the number of vacancies at all schools. of Pennsylvania. To do so, they will build on stronger recruitment strategies for future teachers, making policy changes to educator preparation programs with the assistance of the Board of Education and the State General Assembly, and the expansion of programs such as apprenticeship.
Officials said they would make permanent changes that would make it easier for substitute teachers to obtain certification, work with educator preparation programs to identify course requirements that may pose barriers to entry. for some candidates, and find resources to help school districts offer competitive compensation and incentives to be more competitive in the job market.
Hagerty said Pennsylvania was particularly keen on attracting teachers of color.
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“We know that students have the best chance of success when they have the opportunity to interact with educators who are like them and have common backgrounds and experiences, but less than 7% of teachers in Pennsylvania are people of color. , which is far from the population we serve,” Hagerty said.
The state Department of Education wants the percentage of teachers of color entering the field to increase to 25% from its current rate of 13%. He also wants to add effective mentoring and support for teachers of color, and wants 90% of teachers of color to remain in the profession after their first year of teaching, up from 80% now.
One strategy to achieve these goals is to make it easier for teachers to obtain accreditation by reduce the processing time of candidates’ files by the State. To do so, officials said they would modernize their practices and policies and modernize the state’s teacher information management system.
Officials said they will also work with Pennsylvania Teacher Preparation Programs to expand pathways into the teaching profession. They will recommend changes to regulations that now present barriers to some candidates entering certification programs, issuing guidance and providing support to teaching schools around structured literacy, professional ethics and culturally relevant education.
Bolstering professional development opportunities with more meaningful training is another strategy the state has identified as a way to bring more teachers into the fold and ensure they stay in Pennsylvania classrooms. .
The state’s work was informed in part by interviews with educators in Pennsylvania who highlighted barriers to being able to hold teaching positions and encouraging teachers to stay, including: negative perceptions of teaching as a career, financial and political barriers to enrollment in Pennsylvania schools of education, a lack of effective recruitment strategies for educators of color in some districts, a state certification process clumsy, relatively low pay compared to other industries, and below-average teacher training.
The stakes are incredibly high, said Laura Boyce, executive director of Teach Plus Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization working with the state Department of Education on recruitment strategies. Boyce, a former teacher from Philadelphia, had a vacancy as a fifth-grade teacher for six months when she was principal at Camden. Without substitutes or adequate building staff to cover the class, Boyce taught it herself, while juggling administrative responsibilities.
“It almost killed me,” she said. “These shortages cause a vicious circle that makes the conditions for the educators who are there untenable.”
A teacher Boyce worked with developed a bladder infection from skipping prep periods and bathroom breaks to cover lessons. A director resigned mid-year due to stress-induced dizziness.
The cost for students can be even higher.
“Imagine being a student without a teacher. Your class is covered by a substitute, or split between other classes, or experiencing a revolving door of tired teachers covering your class as they prepare,” Boyce said. “How can you learn without a teacher?
While not unique to Pennsylvania, the teacher shortage requires “ambitious, transformational change,” and Boyce said the plan advanced Monday was a start, but would require resources, both from the State and others.
“It’s time to elevate teachers – our society’s most important profession – to the level of appreciation and prestige they deserve, and to invest in them.”