Opinion

Opinion: Teacher Turnover Is a Symptom of a Nationwide Shortage of Educators. What 2 Arizona Teachers Are Doing About It in Their State

By Dayna Burke and Tara Dale | March 25, 2018

Photo credit: Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images

Recently, Bellwether Education Partners’ Chad Aldeman argued that there is no crisis regarding teacher turnover because, in comparison with other industries, the turnover in teaching is low. While that is true, Aldeman misses the bigger point, which is that teacher turnover is a symptom of a larger problem: The United States has a teacher shortage.

According to the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, in December 2017, there were 5,371 Arizona classrooms without certified teachers. Other states are experiencing similar shortages. Virginia began its 2016 school year with more than 1,000 classrooms void of a trained teacher, and Oklahoma is down 536 teachers in 2017.

Aldeman says this isn’t a crisis — and, yes, the word “crisis” is a subjective term. But the issue is real for students across the country in classrooms without a qualified teacher.

This crisis, the teacher shortage, is not easy to solve, and many states are seeking creative solutions. For example, Arizona instituted a new certification program that classifies as interns college graduates who have bachelor’s degrees and can pass a knowledge test but have no training to be a teacher. Of the four biology positions open in one Arizona high school in August, three were filled by teachers who were certified under this new law because there aren’t enough traditionally certified science teachers in the state.

But we know that simply making it easier to be a teacher isn’t the best answer. Educators who have completed a teacher training program know how to differentiate lessons for a variety of learners, engage students in developmentally appropriate ways, and use curriculum effectively.

Nationally, between 40 and 50 percent of teachers leave the classroom within the first five years of beginning their teaching career. “Survey after survey, like the one done by the Learning Policy Institute, indicates that new teachers leave the profession because they lack support.

Results like these are why we created The Teacher Partnership, to support teachers in their second, third, or fourth years of teaching by matching them with mentors who meet with them monthly. Our teacher-driven program, established through the Arizona Educational Foundation, discusses research-based teaching strategies that help new teachers implement our state’s college and career-ready standards. New teachers have the opportunity to try new things with the support of other teachers; no one is alone, and everyone is supported. The partnership provides a safe place for them to learn, research, and problem solve.

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If teachers are given professional development to ensure their effectiveness and increase their job satisfaction, we will have more certified teachers in the classroom than we do today. Programs like the Arizona Teacher Partnership can not only help retain the qualified teachers we have, but ensure the highest-quality instruction possible for all Arizona students.

Aldeman actually proves our point when he concludes, “the evidence suggests our money would be better spent working to boost retention for effective teachers working in specific hard-to-staff schools and subjects.”

Yes, the teacher shortage is a crisis, and it’s a crisis in every state, specifically in math, science, foreign language, and special education. When teachers leave halfway through the year, that crisis worsens. America’s children deserve to have a trained teaching professional in their classroom, to motivate, guide, track, and assess their learning. It is imperative that we all work toward the goal of having highly qualified educators in each and every American classroom.

Dayna Burke teaches first grade at Sahuarita Primary School in Arizona’s Sahuarita Unified School District. Tara Dale is a science teacher at Desert Ridge High School in the Gilbert Public School district in Arizona. Both were named 2014 Teacher of the Year Ambassadors for Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation.

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