COLUMN: Teacher shortage — it’s more than pay

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Occasionally a news article will appear regarding the shortage of classroom teachers, and it seems that the general consensus is that “this too shall pass.” In this case, it will not pass until actions are taken to delve into its causes and provide the resources to remedy this critical situation.

The first thought that comes to mind is pay. Historically, many of the professionals that work in the public sector to make society better have been on the low end of the overall pay scales. Teachers, social services workers, and all first responder jobs fit in this category including law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs. These heroes did not enter these professions expecting high pay; they wanted to serve the general public and make a difference for the betterment of society as a whole.

Regarding teachers, literally every school division in Virginia is coping with the teacher shortage by hiring provisionally licensed teachers or long term substitutes. 

A fully licensed teacher first must graduate from an accredited college or university with a bachelor’s degree in Education. This degree contains courses in education theory, instructional best practices, courses in key subject areas, and monitored student teaching. Once licensed, teachers must take continuing education courses to maintain licensure.

The Career Switcher Program was developed by the Virginia Department of Education for those possessing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in a non-education area wanting to enter the teaching profession and, over a three year period, take appropriate education courses to move up to the fully licensed category. Regionally, these programs are offered through Old Dominion University, Regent University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Tidewater Community College.  Participants must pass the Professional Teachers Assessment at the completion of the coursework. This category allows participants to teach students in classroom settings as they move through the program. These are sometimes called “provisional” teachers.

Long term substitutes typically do not hold college degrees but are allowed to fill classroom needs when licensed or provisional teachers cannot be found.

This teacher shortage is not projected to be resolved anytime soon. Most colleges and universities offering teaching degrees report a 25% drop in students seeking teaching degrees.

While pay and benefits are important, they do not seem to be the main cause of the shortage. The pressure of standardized test scores is, I believe, the main reason for the teacher shortages. Teachers enter the profession because they love students and see everyday they are making a difference in their lives and futures. Classroom teachers know better than anyone the capabilities and aptitudes of each student. Standardized testing (in Virginia called Standards of Learning or SOLs) has taken away a teacher’s creativity to provide for their students. Instead, teaching has become more like a factory production line where every item must be exact, and those that do not fit that mold are rejected. 

Standardized testing started with federal legislation passed to the states for administration. The goal was more accountability and the belief was that only with federal leadership can individual schools be accountable for student achievement.

Classroom teachers know that not every student is the same and not all can pass a test no matter how much time is assigned to that task or how hard that student tries. That knowledge and skill does not seem to matter to many politicians. The reality is that local municipalities who partially fund local education are in a much better position to judge the success of their local schools.

Eliminate standardizing testing or greatly minimize it and the teacher shortage will disappear.

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is hrobert@vt.edu.