- When finding solutions to the teacher shortage for some districts and states, there’s a fine line between innovative and concerning ideas, panelists said during a Thursday webinar hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Education. As an example, some panelists cited Florida’s state policy permitting veterans to teach without a bachelor’s degree, saying that putting unqualified educators in classrooms will only hurt students.
- But there are ways to work with community members without loosening certification standards to allow more people to teach in schools, said Sonja Brookins Santelises, the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools in Maryland. Solutions like tutoring, for instance, can allow the community to be involved and better support teachers, she said.
- Panelists also pointed out that teachers are caught in an ongoing political and cultural war while also feeling isolated, as some teach alone because they don’t interact with their peers all day. “There’s so much community, connections and support that is missing from a lot of teacher experiences,” said Alejandro Diasgranados, the 2021 DC Teacher of the Year.
While there are ongoing debates about how widespread the teacher shortage’s impact is on districts nationwide, there are still concerns, said David Steiner, executive director of the Institute for Education Policy, during the webinar.
“Even in the cases where we’re not in a dire emergency, we have problems,” Steiner said. “We are in a country that has hundreds of thousands of underqualified teachers in front of students, and that number continues to rise. That’s deeply worrying.”
On top of that, there’s a shortage of teachers of color, he said, and as all teachers’ responsibilities mount, they are also working in siloed classrooms.
“Having gone through the hybrid or online experience, teachers want more flexibility, but they also want to feel they’re a part of a team, and a team that is appreciated by their principal and community,” Steiner said.
Because the profession has become too burdensome, too isolating, and too little rewarded, Steiner said, he fears the lowered number of trained teachers entering the profession will worsen.
But a good teaching environment and supportive school leader who empowers staff to be better educators and fosters a sense of community can help keep teachers in the profession, Diasgranados said.
A reality not discussed enough is that teachers are also under increased scrutiny and feel attacked by parents and their own community members, said Sharon Contreras, CEO of The Innovation Project and former superintendent of Guilford County Schools in North Carolina.
Thirty-seven percent of teachers and 61% of principals said they faced harassment over COVID-19 safety measures or teachings on race, racism or bias during the first half of the 2021-22 school year, according to a survey by the RAND Corp. Additionally, state policy proposals looking to restrict discussions in the classroom over topics on race, gender and LGBTQ identities have skyrocketed 250% in the past year, a recent PEN America report found.
Though pay has been typically low for teachers, there was previously overall respect for the profession — but that too has gone away, Contreras said.
There are good ideas to help improve these working conditions, such as providing wellness days for staff, she said, but state policies have to be flexible enough to support these ideas in the first place if retention of great teachers is the goal.