Despite efforts, Oklahoma teacher shortage remains

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 9:17 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - It’s been a hot topic for several years, but heated up amid the Covid pandemic. School districts across the state, all facing the same challenge.

“There is a teacher shortage, there is not nearly enough students coming through the teacher pipeline,” said Betty Collins, a Tulsa Public Schools teacher.

“Nobody wants to be a teacher, there’s not enough pay and too much work you have to do,” Angela Statum, another teacher at Tulsa Public Schools said.

The dwindling number of teachers isn’t new to Oklahoma. It’s an issue that’s been around long enough that steps have been made to combat it.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister touts a recent win - paying student teachers working toward a degree in education.

“So paying for a student teaching internship is something that’s never been done before in Oklahoma and the state used resources to help bring 1,300 new teachers a year into that paid student teaching,” Hofmeister said.

Education majors at Cameron University are taking advantage of it.

Jennifer Dennis, the Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies says they’ve gone an extra step to help.

“Cameron has supplemented the student teaching semester with a $500 stipend to all of our student teachers to help pay for their testing expenses,” said Dennis.

But not all colleges can sustain their education programs.

Oklahoma City University recently made headlines after the school announced it would be suspending its program because of the low enrollment.

Cameron, however, has seen fluctuating, but healthy numbers.

In 2019, 45 students graduated from the traditional teacher prep program, 58 students in 2020, and last year, Cameron University graduated 49 students who declared a major in education.

“That’s not enough to fill the demand in SWOK and our graduates don’t stay here,” said Dennis. “We wish there were more, but we have some healthy numbers and healthy sized enrollment in our education programs.”

Despite the efforts being made to graduate traditionally certified teachers, schools continue to fall short. Oklahoma’s emergency certification program aims to lessen that blow but even that is a double edged sword.

“We’re appreciative of them, the fact of the matter is they didn’t go through the same four years of teaching school that those of us who are more traditionally certified,” Collins said. “Things like classroom management, Special Education law, teachers who are emergency certified get into the classroom and don’t know what to expect.”

In order for these emergency certified teachers to catch up in areas essential to the classroom, Superintendent Hofmeister proposes providing them with the necessary resources to make an impact in children’s lives.

“That is something that every parent that sends their child into a classroom that they have confidence that their teacher knows how to teach reading, understands the science of reading,” said Hofmeister.

Until that support is given to emergency certified teachers, some say they’ll quit the profession all together and the shortage will continue.

“If you don’t have the skills and capability because you didn’t practice that, you’re overwhelmed and feel you don’t have the support you need to be in the classroom,” said Collins.

This legislative session, two bills have been filed to help address the teacher shortage. Senator Jessica Garvin has filed Senate Bills 1119 and 1144.

SB 1119 would remove the 270-hour limitation adjunct teachers can teach per semester in a classroom, while 1144 would remove the limit on number of school days certain substitute teachers may teach.

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