There are no easy solutions to teacher shortages. So let’s focus on quality

An imperative first step is expediting qualified teacher candidates’ eligibility to enter the classroom.

As the mother of four and recently appointed dean of one of the country’s longest-standing colleges of teacher preparation, I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking about the teacher shortage. All I need to do is have a dinnertime conversation with my daughter and I know we need to do better.

The fact that there are no easy solutions does not excuse us from doing everything in our power to right this ship. With 85% of school districts across the nation reporting staffing deficits, an imperative first step is expediting qualified teacher candidates’ eligibility to enter the classroom.

Within the National College of Education at National Louis University, we’re partnering with school districts throughout the state of Illinois to pilot alternative pathways to teacher licensure designed to provide immediate relief for schools in shortage areas. For teaching candidates living in more rural parts of the state with poor access to educator prep programs, the university’s online programs provide a flexible and accessible path to licensure.

Our Alternative Programs in Early Childhood Education, Special Education, and Elementary Education allow candidates to take jumpstart education courses that qualify them as alternative provisional educators and allow them to be the teacher of record from the first day of the school year with support and wrap-around services in collaboration with the school.

We’re also seeing districts with vacancies interested in hiring candidates who qualify for short-term teaching approval. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree, 32 semester hours of coursework, and a passing score on the applicable state content test may be eligible to be the teacher of record on short-term teaching approval for up to three years.

Demand for our year-long paid internship program is up almost 80% this school year over last, with 25 internship site partners. Founded as a solution to the joint problems of resource-strapped students struggling to finance student teaching and districts struggling with teacher shortages, the paid internship program allows teacher candidates to be hired by a participating district while enrolled in the teacher preparation program. The candidates complete their student teaching at the partner site and are often hired as teachers of record in the district.

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Simultaneously, longer-term strategies need to revolve around teacher recruitment and retention. Historically, these have been siloed camps, with higher ed focused on recruitment, and retention falling squarely on the shoulders of schools and districts. What’s become painfully clear, however, is that only a collaborative approach involving early childhood and secondary school educators, community advocates, higher ed, and administrators at the school and district levels can address the immensity of these issues in meaningful and sustainable ways.

At National Louis University, we’re in the process of implementing a robust teacher retention initiative in coordination with district mentoring programs. This program is designed to support our teacher graduates as they start their careers in education and help them remain in the profession by providing social, emotional, professional, and cultural support and helping them focus on work/life balance.

Ultimately, we need to resurrect the prestige and respect that once surrounded our calling and restore teaching’s status as a destination profession. Many of us remember the simple power of the 1980’s public service campaign based on a quote by Harry S. Truman, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

Those of us leading this charge need to take a moment to think back to why we became teachers. I clearly remember the moment in 1993 when—as a kindergarten teacher on the playground of a socially, if not physically, segregated school—I realized that my calling went beyond teaching the three Rs to foster social-emotional growth and instill lifelong lessons in inclusion, equity, and the value of diversity.

Rekindling that passion and sense of purpose, within a system that truly values and rewards teaching excellence, is the legacy we owe to the current and future generations of teachers, and society at large.

More from DA: How school leaders are getting innovative in search for substitute teachers 

Carolyn Theard-Griggs
Carolyn Theard-Griggs
Carolyn Theard-Griggs is the dean of the National College of Education at National Louis University in Chicago. She previously spent several years as the dean of the College of Education at Chicago State University and has been a faculty and administrator in multiple settings as well as a classroom teacher for grades K-3. Currently, she serves as Illinois School District #161 school board president.

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