Better pay, student-loan forgiveness, paid internships and professional development — all would help attract and retain high-quality teachers.
FROM Seattle to Spokane and Oroville to Kennewick, Washington students are the victims of a growing crisis: There just aren’t enough qualified teachers entering and staying in the workforce.
In October, 45 percent of Washington’s principals reported they weren’t able to fill all of the teacher positions in their schools with fully certified teachers who met job qualifications. Further compounding existing equity gaps, we know that the burden of this shortage falls heavily on schools serving highly diverse, poverty-impacted students — schools where students already are more likely to be taught by less-experienced teachers.
Looking ahead, even more of our state’s schools are likely to see teaching positions unfilled in coming years. Implementing all-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes in grades K-3 will create thousands of new teaching positions. Unanswered is the question of where we’ll find qualified teachers to step into all of these classrooms.
As Washington’s legislative session gets started, the need to address the teacher shortage is clear. Yet we must craft solutions thoughtfully, drawing on research about what works in attracting, preparing and retaining excellent teachers to serve our most vulnerable students.
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And above everything else, we must keep the learning of all our children as the state’s highest priority.
Emergency measures such as flooding schools with teachers on limited credentials or lowering entry standards for new teachers would only exacerbate the opportunity and achievement gaps that persist in Washington’s public schools.
Rather than grasping for a quick fix, what our state needs is a strategic response that addresses both the preparation of new teachers and creates a workplace that encourages current teachers to stay in the profession and build their skills.
In order to ramp up the production of teachers while retaining high-quality teachers, it is crucial to provide the right professional and financial supports for novices, raise the status of teachers and make teaching careers attractive for a wider range of Washingtonians.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to raise the minimum starting salary for teachers is an excellent step to attract people to the profession.
Loan-forgiveness programs and tuition reduction are proven ways to make the teaching profession more attractive and financially feasible to highly-qualified candidates, especially those who are first-generation or come from underrepresented backgrounds.
Establishing paid internships for all teacher candidates would be an effective way to expand the pool of people considering teaching careers. Many of these prospective teachers have a family to support, and giving up a year’s salary and paying $20,000 or more to earn their teaching credential for a starting salary of $42,000 is financially out of reach.
Providing paid internships would help reduce the financial burden these future teachers must assume to pursue their calling, and at the same time enable them to focus their energy on becoming excellent teachers during their preparation.
Yet the answer is not simply expanding the pipeline of new teachers; it’s about keeping the teachers we have and continually renewing their professional skill set and identity.
One in five new teachers will leave the profession within five years, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education. In most cases, these individuals aren’t leaving because they don’t enjoy teaching or are ineffective in the classroom. Rather, low compensation, lack of opportunities for professional development and stress are the root causes.
Research also tells us that strong mentoring and induction programs play a significant role in teacher retention. As a state, we need to invest more in mentoring our new teachers through consistent, regular and job-embedded opportunities to learn and develop alongside master teacher colleagues and school leaders.
Washington’s most important resource is its people. Our future as an innovative, diverse and economically robust state rests on how well we educate our young people.
To achieve this, we must take action now to raise the status of the teaching profession in the eyes of the public. Our current and future teachers deserve a profession that is intellectually engaging and enables them to sustain their families and live in the communities where they teach.