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Something to think Superintendent Westerberg

My last two articles talked about the growing teacher shortage that exists across the country in most areas of K-12 education and why I believe this is happening.  This final article talks about how states have tried to address this issue and some of my thoughts on this topic.


Most states, including Minnesota, have changed teacher licensing laws to make it easier to become a K-12 teacher with the hopes of increasing the number of candidates for positions. Minnesota now has a four-tier system of certification. A Tier I license can be achieved when someone has a four-year college degree, but no teacher training. Those with a Tier I have a one-year license to begin taking teaching courses. If someone is working towards a teaching license they can receive a Tier II license, which allows them three years to finish their teaching degree.  Someone completing a teacher education program and has passed all teacher licensure tests receives a Tier III license. A Tier IV license is given to someone having a Tier III license for five years. More and more teaching positions are now being filled by those having a Tier I or Tier II license.  School human resource personnel will say this system has marginally improved the number of candidates available for positions.  However, critics of alternative certification believe allowing people without any formal teacher training into a classroom lowers the standards and often sets the teacher up for failure. Few professions would allow someone to be hired for a job before learning how to do the job.


An area of extreme shortage is special education.  There are multiple reasons for this shortage; however, one of the greatest is the paper work required is overwhelming with no end in sight.  It often frustrates teachers, which contributes to a national average of 50% of the special education teachers leaving the profession within five years. In Minnesota, there is a legislative committee studying how to reduce this paper work; however, past efforts to do this have not been successful.  


One way schools can help overcome the stigma associated with teaching is to begin recruiting more of their own students to enter the profession.  Big Lake High is looking at including teacher apprenticeship positions as part of the highly successful apprenticeship program. Just as business and industry need to be creative to fill positions, schools have the same need. Students need to learn before entering college that teaching can be a very gratifying profession. Educators also need to more actively encourage students to enter the teaching profession as a counter to the naysayers who discourage teaching.


Schools must provide greater levels of support for teachers, especially those with little or no formal training (Tier I and II).  In Big Lake, we staff one certified teacher in each building to help teachers improve their skills.  This peer coaching supports both new and experienced teachers. The Big Lake schools have also adjusted existing staff to provide a reading specialist at Independence Elementary to work with teachers on reading instruction. At the middle and high schools, existing staff has been adjusted to provide a certified teacher to help teachers improve their use of technology to transform learning in the classroom.  This greater level of teacher support will help recruit and retain good teachers in the profession.


The wage and salary gap between the compensation for teachers and equally trained private sector professionals continues to grow.  For example, a teacher in Big Lake with a doctorate in chemistry would begin at $51,300 while according to an entry-level pharmacist makes $105,000 annually.  Though this example isn’t typical of the pay gap between private and public sector wages, teacher salaries are becoming less and less competitive with the private sector.  With the average college student having over $30,000 of debt, the ability to pay off this debt with a wage earning potential degree is another reason why too many young people are choosing a career other than education.