We are experiencing a teacher shortage in North Dakota and across the nation. As of October 5, 2015 there were 89 teacher openings across the state. Keep in mind school started almost two months ago. This means that schools are either increasing class sizes or are going without programs. There are less people going into the education profession, which means we are graduating fewer teachers.
Teacher salaries in North Dakota are near the bottom in comparison to the national average. It is difficult in rural community that is not experiencing substantial growth to remain competitive. The state funding formula favors a growing a district. However, I do believe the issue is more complex than just increasing pay for educators although it would certainly help. The following factors should be considered if we are to fix the teacher shortage issues that currently exist.
Respect for the profession:
Teaching is one of the most demanding professions in the world. Educators in the top performing educational systems around the world are deeply respected. In fact the highest achievers go into the education profession in top education systems. In America, there is the perception that teaching is not difficult and anybody could do it. Being an effective teacher is both art and science. Teaching is difficult yet rewarding and it takes special dedicated individuals to make the profession a career.
Support our beginners:
We have to do more to support our beginning teachers. Many teachers leave the profession after only a few years. This is largely due to the level of support they receive after they begin teaching. At Rugby, we assign mentors, provide orientations, and use our professional learning communities to build their support network. One of our school goals’ is to improve our retention of beginning teachers.
Teacher pipeline issues:
Is higher education responding appropriately to our needs? Is it a teacher shortage problem or a teacher pipeline issue? For years we have seen a plethora of teachers in certain fields like elementary education while other fields experienced shortages. Teacher preparation programs may need to redirect students or place caps on certain education fields.
High stakes accountability:
High stakes testing and punitive punishments beat down educators. Standardized assessments have their place in education and provide us with useful data. We use this data and it helps us set school wide goals. However, this single snapshot in time may not explain the whole picture. Each public school district is required to make annual yearly progress based on these assessments. If we do not meet certain proficiency levels we are placed on program improvement. While on program improvement certain sanctions are placed on the school district. These sanctions can be very frustrating and debilitating. There is no silver bullet to immediately boost scores. Improving student achievement takes time and the gains are incremental. What works for one student will not work for another. Standardized assessments are necessary, but the sanctions imposed due to low scores may cause many young people to choose a different career field.
Grow our own:
Do educators do a good enough job promoting teaching as a career option? We are our own worst enemies at times. We should be pushing our best and brightest into the profession. If we do not promote our profession we will continue to see small applicant pools. This may impact our ability to fill positions with high quality people.
Teaching cannot be seen as a backup career choice for young people. We need to sell our profession and talk positively about it!