Supers: Teacher shortage is real

Published 1:03 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

State education leaders have been talking about teacher shortages in Alabama in the past week, and local superintendents say the shortage is real.

Speaking to the Anniston Chamber of Commerce last week, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey said the state’s teacher shortage is “massive.”

“There most definitely is a teacher shortage,” Opp City Schools superintendent Michael Smithart said. “There are just not enough students coming out of college that are certified in any of the secondary areas. It is just becoming more of a challenge to find teachers.”

In the 2017-2018 school year, there were more than 1,700 teachers in grades seven through 12 who were not certified to teach the English, math, social studies, science or special education classes they were assigned,  Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, told state reporters last week. Some of those teachers may have a one-year emergency certificates or are “teaching out of field,” meaning they’re certified in other subjects.

“Any grade seven through 12 is going to be hard to find a teacher for,” Smithart said. “Because when you start getting into high school, you have to have a certain certification. A lot of districts now have to do alternative certifications. An alternative certification is where you can take somebody who doesn’t have a degree in education, but has a bachelor’s degree, and they can go through a process that the state has put in place where they can get certified.”

Smithart said that to make sure they get the best teachers for Opp, they have to make sure they find the right person for the job.

“You want to start with some one who has high character who is committed to the profession,” Smithart said. “Then you can work on things like certification and it may require having to go an alternative route if you can’t find someone. That is what we have been doing, especially for those core secondary subjects.”

Covington County Schools superintendent Shannon Driver said that the teacher shortage is getting more severe.

“The number of students going into education is on the decline in all fields, but primarily in high school,” Driver said. “This is just in high school, but in 2014-2015 there were 704 students getting teaching certificates and in this past year, that number was down to 523, so just over the past four years that number has decreased significantly.”

He said that it is harder to find teachers that are certified in their specific subjects.

“We are also having to use alternative forms of certification,” Driver said. “Like the provisional certificates and emergency certificates. Those numbers are growing, but it takes around three years to get those certificates.”

In Alabama, teachers can earn certification by graduating with a degree in education. Alternately, those with a bachelor’s degree may earn a provisional certificate, a three-year alternative approach that requires certain degree prerequisites are met and involves the completion of testing, coursework, and on the job training. The certificates must be requested by an employing Alabama superintendent.

Because new teachers are hard to find, the county system works hard on retention, Driver said.

“You want to try to do everything you can to keep the good ones that you have that are certified,” Driver said. “Obviously retirement gets a lot of them, but people are going into other fields as well. So, that’s the number one thing that we try to do. We try to make a positive work place to encourage people to stay. Beyond that, we are constantly going to universities and job fairs trying to recruit new teachers in any way that we can.”

In Alabama, the starting salary for a new teacher rose from $38,341 to $39,301 for the FY19 school year. School systems with more local tax money often pay teachers more, making it easier for them to recruit and retain teachers.

State legislative leaders also are talking about including teacher pay raises in the education budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The legislature begins its annual session on March 5.

The Economic Policy Institute compared college graduates’ wages within each state and showed teachers incur what they call a “teacher pay penalty.” Their analysis shows teachers in Alabama are paid 72 percent of what college graduates in other professions earn.