But, is it enough? Join Me in the Discussion 

July is a bittersweet month for me- my summer teaching job is over and I finally have the time to fill my days with all the things about summer I love most: spending time with friends and family making fun memories, reading all the ‘just for pleasure’ books I’ve hoarded over the school year, staying up too late and sleeping-in way beyond my 5:00AM alarm, traveling and indulging in creative projects for my house and classroom and just taking advantage of the un-demanding schedule that this month affords me.

But while I love my time off, my classroom and the responsibilities I have to my curriculum planning and instructional expectations for my students are never far from my mind. I love my job and all the responsibilities that come with preparing for, and then accomplishing, a well-designed and academically successful school year with my students. It’s what I’ve been trained to do and it impacts my student’s learning journey. My role as a highly-qualified teacher reaches far beyond the one year students spend in my classroom. What I offer my students this year will move forward with them into the next school year and beyond. One year spent in my classroom is a critical piece in my students’ educational puzzle; it’s imperative that my piece be well-planned and articulated at a high degree of rigor and competency. Every student deserves a teacher who works to achieve this standard.

This fall hundreds of thousands of students will return to school, backpacks stocked with supplies, filled with eager anticipation for a new year. Students will arrive at their classrooms excited about the daily return to their social interactions with friends, participating in school clubs and events, playing sports, and most importantly, they will be anxiously waiting to meet and get to know their classroom teacher(s). Sadly, many students will not be met at their classroom door by a licensed, highly-qualified teacher. The reality is, many classrooms across the nation this coming school year will be supervised and guided by substitute teachers and/or instructional assistants, who despite their willingness to help fill the gap in the ever-growing teacher shortage crisis in America, are simply underprepared and overwhelmed by the myriad responsibilities that are required in this role.

Nationally, the current shortage of teachers is the highest it’s ever been and is expected to continue to rise. The problem is real and is not going to be fixed without significant effort;  According to a national survey conducted by The Guardian (2018), “28 of 41 states that responded to the survey identified a teacher shortage and 15 of those 28 showed an increased shortage when compared to 2017.” While the reasons for the shortage of teachers in America are many, including low compensation, school environment and safety concerns, lack of administrative support, and a negative societal perception regarding the profession of teaching in general; the reality is the crisis is significant enough to warrant both public and private sector attention. Colleges aren’t graduating new teachers and schools can’t keep the ones they currently have in the classroom. Something has to change because students deserve better than a temporary solution to an ever-growing permanent problem.

Without a qualified teacher in the classroom, students struggle to attain valuable skills and knowledge that scaffolds from year to year within their educational journey. It creates gaps that continue to widen and further distance these students from those who have the advantage of having a highly-qualified teacher’s guidance. The gap is even more significant for at-risk students who are already behind the learning curve in the classroom. To compound the problem, often, schools where highly-qualified teachers are most needed–communities with higher poverty rates–report greater teacher shortages than most across the nation. That inequity grows more inequity within social, emotional, and economic frameworks which cause division and imbalance in our society. The teacher shortage is truly a problem for everyone–not just educators.

Nationwide, school districts and state and local universities are responding to the crisis by working to improve teacher compensation packages, provide better, more meaningful professional development that offer opportunities for teachers to lead from the classroom, and are refining the quality of school culture to better retain currently established teachers in the classroom.  There is also a growing shift amongst school districts to improve public perceptions about teaching as a viable and noteworthy career choice in an attempt to entice new teachers to the classroom. Many districts are implementing programs in high schools where they are “growing’ possible future educators; students who are interested in becoming a teacher are allowed to research and then intern under high-quality teachers while in school to help better prepare them for the rigor the profession demands. Additionally, many colleges are establishing teacher residency programs on campus where future teachers are put into the classroom in a realtime, hands-on learning experience in classrooms early on in their degree to help better prepare them for their future roles as educational leaders. These are important strides towards alleviating the shortages. But, is it enough?

So, while I will continue to plan and prepare for the coming school year over these last days as my summer quietly slips by, I will also continue to advocate for the future of education not just through my lesson planning, but through attention to topics like this. Teachers are highly-skilled professionals who build the future. It is fundamentally important to society that classrooms across America are filled with highly-qualified and licensed professionals.

Please join me in the discussion with other educators from around the nation as we discuss ways to increase educational equity by engaging in high-quality teacher recruitment and retention efforts on a Twitter chat @ed4hs and @TeachPlusNM on July 23 at 2pm ET. Make sure you use the #EFHSchat hashtag to be a part of the conversation.

Dawn attended Eastern New Mexico University and obtained her Bachelor’s in Education in 2000. She then went on to gain her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from ENMU in 2010. Currently, she teaches high school English at Texico High School in Texico, NM.