The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Flynn Ross is chair of the Teacher Education Department and coordinator of the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine. These views are her own as she is not authorized to represent the university or the University of Maine System. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.
Schools are opening and there are not enough teachers! There are over 600 teaching positions in Maine posted since early June and over 200 posted since Aug. 1 on Servingschools.com, an online commercial job board.
Many districts will have to hire underqualified applicants who have no teacher preparation experience. Some will not even have completed a bachelor’s degree since the emergency certification that was issued during the pandemic school year of 2020-2021 is now codified in law under LD 1189 and is being proposed for permanent certification rule changes.
Most of the individuals who will fill teaching vacancies are well intentioned, good people. Some will even do a good job managing classrooms, creating and implementing curriculum, creating and delivering accurate, unbiased assessments, communicating with families, collaborating with colleagues, implementing technology to respond to remote learning days, addressing social and emotional needs, particularly for students experiencing the collective trauma of a global pandemic, as well as balancing their own work/life demands, all for salaries that will qualify a family of four for food stamps.
Teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor impacting student learning. High quality teachers are essential to quality education. John Hattie, a researcher and professor of education in Australia, found in his review of 1,200 meta-analyses that “collective teacher efficacy” is the single greatest factor in improving student learning. Teacher efficacy comes with experience. In 1987-88, most teachers in the United States had 15 years of experience. In 2018-2019 that dropped to one to three years of experience.
Nationwide, we can learn from policy decisions that create the teacher shortage, which has led to a revolving door of unprepared, inexperienced teachers who quickly leave the profession at a cost of about $10,000 each to replace in recruitment and training costs. This revolving door of new teachers, brought about in part by policies such as emergency certifications that allow nearly anyone in a teaching position, impacts student learning. In Maine we have benefited from a relatively stable teacher workforce with over 86 percent of our teaching workforce having more than three years of experience.
In Maine, one of our challenges is the inequity of distribution of these new teachers across districts. In Cape Elizabeth only 2 percent of their teachers have fewer than three years of teaching experience, whereas in Lewiston it is 34 percent. The charter school Maine Connections Academy has a reported 65 percent of their teachers with less than three years of teaching and some of the lowest graduation rates. The costs of recruiting, preparing, and mentoring unprepared, emergency and conditionally certified teachers is a burden placed on our most vulnerable students. We can and must do better.
There are public policy solutions that can rectify the collective morass we find ourselves in. The Maine Department of Education has just released a strategic plan for education recruitment and retention under #TeachMaine that provides an interactive dashboard website of state and local policies and initiatives to address the teacher shortage based on research from the Learning Policy Institute. These solutions can be grouped in four themes that include: incentivize recruitment and retention efforts; expand and diversify educator workforce efforts; support educator development, growth, and leadership; and elevate educators and the education profession.
Investment in our teacher workforce is the foundation for any investments in quality education for our children. To ensure high quality education, we must ensure Maine has a high quality teacher workforce.