New Haven recently announced that, in an effort to bridge the gap created by teacher shortages, they will offer current educators additional pay to take on the work of teaching additional classes. While this seems like a fair trade, it is a short-sighted solution to a problem that will only continue to grow unless we address it at its core.
As someone who works with teachers throughout New Haven and the rest of Connecticut, it is safe to say that this teacher shortage is not a localized issue, nor is it one that will be short-lived. The staffing shortages across Connecticut are leaving teachers overworked, overwhelmed, and considering leaving the profession.
Additionally, the staffing shortage has led to undue burden on paraprofessionals, who are neither given the tools necessary to shoulder it nor fairly compensated for having done so. So many educators are driven to this work by a deep and sincere desire to do good and to help students succeed; when they aren’t given the resources to do it they end up taking on more and more until the prospect of continuing to endure feels unfathomable. Often this can lead to our best and most dedicated teachers leaving the classroom, exacerbating the very problem that drove them out and leaving a hole that is difficult to fill. In fact, not a week goes by when I don’t speak to a wonderful and caring teacher who tells me that they have worked themselves into the ground and now see no other choice but to leave the field they’ve dedicated their lives to.
In order to feel less overwhelmed, our teachers need to have a manageable workload. They need to not be working on weekends, taking time away from their families, or stressed most evenings in anticipation of school the next day. Their stress levels need to decrease, and this can only happen once districts address these staffing shortages.
While these problems seem inevitable, they are not, and there are steps our legislators and school districts can take to help put an end to the teacher shortage. Initially districts need to put an effort into increasing teacher retention, especially amongst new teachers within their first few years in the profession. Things like increased base pay, additional prep time and colleague mentorship programs are all a draw for teachers to stay in the classroom. Additionally, we can lessen the barriers to the teaching profession.
A teaching certification is time-consuming and expensive, and this makes it difficult for paraprofessionals and others who want to become teachers to make a career change when they already have so many other expenses and responsibilities. Our current system does not correlate to student success or teacher success, it just creates unnecessary barriers to individuals entering the profession. It is time to modify certification requirements to ensure that they are evidence-based standards that correlate to student and teacher success.
Removing these barriers would not only help fill the gap caused by the teacher shortage, but it would also help to increase teacher diversity within Connecticut schools, which can have a positive impact on students, especially those in our most diverse communities. By improving teaching conditions in this way, our teachers will feel less overwhelmed, may be more likely to remain in the classroom for the duration of their careers, and our students and communities will be better for it.
I am calling on our state legislators to make the necessary changes to our classrooms so that they are positive spaces for students and teachers alike. We need to appreciate and value our educators and we need to do it in a way that meaningfully addresses the causes for their departure before it is too late. If we don’t, it won’t just be our students, but our entire community that suffers.
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