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For the past several years, public school districts across the nation have struggled to fill teacher vacancies – in 2015, the number of teachers nationwide was down about 100,000 from pre-Great Recession levels. Until recently, Pennsylvania was one of the few states where most districts had enough teachers in circulation to meet demand. Pennsylvania is one of the better states to be a public school teacher in, with a median salary of $66,020 as of May 2017. That is all about to change.
From 2010 to 2013, the number of students in Pennsylvania teacher education programs dropped by 31 percent, from 18,272 to 12,569. Even more alarmingly, the number of active teachers seeking new certifications dropped by 61 percent over the same period. And retention of new teachers continues to be a major drain on the profession, with about 45 percent of teachers leaving for other careers within five years of their first hire.
Beyond the top-line numbers, there are shortages in specific areas within Pennsylvania.
First, the number of substitute teachers has dropped significantly. This may be due to the fact that people with teaching certifications often turn to substitute teaching when they lack other work. With the economy gradually recovering since 2008, fewer subs have made themselves available.
Next, special education – always a difficult role to fill—has become even harder to find staff for in recent years. This may be due in part to additional Pennsylvania certification requirements for special education teachers at the secondary level.
Finally, the demand for math and science teachers continues to rise with no commensurate increase in supply. This is a national trend, which research suggests is caused mainly by new teachers leaving the profession for careers within STEM fields, according to the National Science Teaching Organization.
Teaching is a challenging profession that is often expected to solve a great many societal problems. And it is true that budget cuts in Pennsylvania have made the prospect of a teaching career less attractive, in spite of the fact that pay remains high. However, the future of the state—and the country—rests on the availability of a quality education delivered by professionals. Take action to ensure the future of Pennsylvania:
Become a teacher- If you are in another career and feel drawn toward teaching as a profession, you can earn a Master of Science in Education (MS Ed.) degree with certification in about two years of study. Colleges and universities now provide flexible programs designed to accommodate your current work schedule, often using a blend of online and in-person teaching and mentorship to help you achieve your degree.
Renew your certification- If you earned a teaching degree previously, you can seek re-certification and either join the ranks of substitute teachers or return to the classroom.
Choose special education- Exceptional learners need exceptional teachers, whether they have disabilities or are gifted and talented. If you are an experienced teacher and you know you can work with students who require more support, gain certification as a special education professional.
Become a school leader- One of the best ways to fight for better working environments for teachers is to play a leading role in creating one. Experienced teachers can earn an MS Ed. or PhD to help transform school communities into more attractive places for teaching professionals to spend their careers.