Teacher shortage restricts  training of new instructors

Teacher shortage restricts training of new instructors

(Calif.) With districts forced to rely on higher numbers of non-fully credentialed teachers to staff classrooms, educator preparation programs are finding fewer placements for student teachers who require the mentorship of fully credentialed instructors.

The lack of openings for new teachers to train worries some state officials as an emerging cycle that will only exacerbate California’s teacher shortage.

 “It’s getting harder and harder to find schools and districts that are willing, or in many cases even able, to accept teachers that we want to put in classrooms through fieldwork and clinical practice,” Shane Martin, member of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said at a meeting last week. “The incentives aren’t there as they once were and schools themselves are stretched more than ever.”

In order to earn their credential, teaching candidates must complete a stint as a student teacher, but they can only do so in a classroom headed up by an already fully credentialed teacher.

Nearly every state has reported a shortage of teachers since the recession–especially in subjects including special or bilingual education, math, and science. Education officials attribute the decline to a combination of high turnover rates among new educators paired with fewer potential candidates enrolling in education colleges, as many opt to pursue degrees that lead to higher paying, more stable careers instead.

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of teaching credentials issued in California decreased by 45 percent, according to state data. Prior to 2008 when the recession took hold, as many as 50,000 college students were working toward getting a teaching degree and certification. Since then, the numbers have fallen to less than half that number.

In an effort to address the issue, lawmakers have passed bills that allow for those who are changing careers to receive an emergency credential and teach in a classroom while they work toward earning a full credential. According to a study authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the number of teachers hired on substandard permits and credentials nearly doubled between about 2014 and 2016 to more than 7,700, and comprising a third of all the new credentials issued in 2014-15.

All of those efforts would be wasted, however, if upcoming college graduates interested in the teaching profession cannot find classrooms to teach in as part of their training. The fact that the state has issued such a high number of these permits and credentials has helped create a vicious cycle in which the teacher shortage may inevitable continue.

In order to become a credentialed teacher, candidates must earn a bachelor’s degree and be accepted into an educator training program. These programs require some time spent learning pedagogical techniques in a college class or seminar as well as student teaching under a fully credentialed mentor teacher. However, because of the teacher shortage–which was made worse by a lack of new candidates–schools began moving teachers into classrooms to teach subjects that did not align with their expertise. At the same time, they hired more teachers without proper credentials, who could not mentor student teachers.

The issue came to light during a discussion before the CTC about updating guidelines for assessing teacher candidates as they participate in fieldwork or clinical practice such as student teaching.

Part of the commission’s goal was to clarify language in guidance tentatively set to be released this summer that is meant to help ensure all teaching candidates–no matter the credentialing program they’re enrolled in–will be held to the same rigorous standards despite any flexibility allowed to the programs implementing those standards.

Commission members noted that, while student teaching is a required in order to become a credentialed educator, simply placing teaching candidates in classrooms is becoming more challenging.

“We’re a tiny step forward for the coming year, but not nearly enough to address the extent of the crisis that we’re experiencing,” Darling-Hammond said during the committee hearing. She noted that while enrollment in credentialing programs has increased for the first time since the recession, the number of teachers working outside their authorized area of specialty decreased from 2,067 during the 2013-14 school year to just 1,377 in 2014-15, meaning that students would still have teachers that were not credentialed in the area they teach in.

“There will be children this year in this state who suffer because of a lack of preparation that their teachers have had, and the number of children is going to grow, and we have to be mindful that it’s part of our mission to work in every way possible to ensure that we have well-prepared, skillful and committed teachers in every classroom,” Darling-Hammond said.