Teachers play important roles in a child’s life. From teachers, students learn how to write their first sentences — or how to master long division, or write up a science lab. From the moment students enter the classroom, to the day they walk across the stage to accept their diploma, educators help provide them with the skills they need for success.
That’s what makes the looming teacher shortage all the more troubling — students need teachers. State officials estimate that New York will require more than 180,000 new teachers in the next decade. Unfortunately, the number of educators entering the field isn’t keeping pace.
Since 2009, enrollment in New York State teacher education programs has fallen by 47 percent. And according to estimates by the New York State Teacher’s Retirement System, over the next five years, nearly a third of all teachers will be eligible for retirement.
It’s simple math.
Waves of teacher retirements — combined with fewer education graduates — will mean teacher shortages in New York State. In fact, teacher recruitment problems are already popping up statewide in over a dozen different subject areas, including special education, career and technical education and world languages.
At NYSUT, we believe in dealing with problems before they become a crisis. That’s why we launched Take a Look at Teaching, a union-led initiative to encourage more students and career changers to enter the teaching profession. The initiative is spearheaded by NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango — it has a particular focus on increasing educator diversity. Although 43 percent of students statewide are African-American and Latino, educators of color represent only 16 percent of teachers.
Since October, we’ve hosted four summits — in Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester and, just a few days ago, in Potsdam. The forums brought educators, students, lawmakers and other stakeholders together, in small groups, to brainstorm strategies for teacher recruitment.
Participants shared ideas, recorded suggestions and reported out their findings. Our hope is that the information we gather will lead toward real solutions to the teacher shortage.
The importance of student debt relief was noted time and again. That’s why we’ve called on lawmakers to expand the New York State Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, which provides an award of up to $5,000 in loan debt relief for educators who teach in hard-to-staff schools, or in subject-shortage areas. We’ve also asked lawmakers to increase funding for the New York State Teacher Opportunity Corps — which offers grants at 16 public and private colleges in New York State to help diversify the ranks of the teaching profession
Other important programs we’re advocating for include the Mentor Teacher Internship Program —which helps new educators transition from teacher preparation, to teacher practice — and teacher centers, which provide ongoing professional development and support for veteran educators.
New York State offers a number of solid programs to recruit and retain teachers. Unfortunately, many are starved for resources. NYSUT is committed to doing its part to encourage more qualified individuals to consider a career in education. But great teachers don’t just happen. To truly address the teaching shortage, New York State leaders must do more to support teachers, and those considering education careers.
Teachers and students are worth the investment.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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