Oklahoma Teacher Shortage
The Oklahoma State Board of Education has approved a huge number, 1,082, emergency teaching certificates to fill vacancies caused by the lack of certified teachers this year. The number of emergency certificates has more than doubled the 505 approved two years ago during the 2014-2015 school year. The highest needs are for elementary, early childhood, science and math teachers. Emergency certificates allow individuals without a teaching degree to work in an Oklahoma public school classroom if they pass a criminal background check and allows them time to pass a subject area test.
Tahlequah Public Schools sought emergency certification from the State Department of Education (SDE) for the first time this year due to a shortage of teacher applicants for a teaching position that came open second semester. The district submitted a letter to the SDE requesting an emergency certificate that is valid for one year so the candidate has time to test in the appropriate area. In past years Tahlequah would have a large number of applicants to choose from when trying to fill positions. In the last few years, we have struggled to find teachers to fill math, science, speech and special education positions due to factors such as low teacher pay and for the lack of respect for public education from Oklahoma leadership. Data indicates that 17 percent of new teachers leave the profession in five years or less. New teachers are more likely to stay in the profession if they’re connected with mentors and receive additional training,
The Oklahoma State Department of Education Teacher Shortage Task Force has come up with several ways to support new teachers. One way is to use mentor teachers to help nurture and develop new teachers in the profession. In the 2014 legislative session, HB 2885 allowed for the reinstatement of a mentor teacher program but in a slightly different format. While it will be beneficial to have this program back in place, finding mentors is a struggle. In fact, under the previous program, mentors were paid a stipend for their service but the Oklahoma State Department of Education did not fund stipends for mentors with this new program. Tahlequah Public Schools believes strongly in supporting our teachers with mentors and the district does currently pay a stipend to our mentor teachers. We have fourteen teachers being mentored by career teachers throughout our district.
Another way to support teachers is the recognition of out-of-state certification. Senate Bill 20 passed in 2015 which provided much needed relief in this area. It allowed for out-of-state teachers with more than five years teaching experience to enter Oklahoma and be certified without taking the Oklahoma certification tests. However, the Teacher Shortage Task Force has determined the best way to encourage teachers to stay in Oklahoma or encourage people to aspire to go into the teaching profession is to increase teacher pay, make education a priority with our state funding, elect official that value public education and respect the dedication and professionalism of our teachers. Our students deserve an effective teacher in every classroom.