The burgeoning teacher shortage and how to solve it was the topic of conversation at an annual gathering of some of Colorado’s superintendents and business leaders. And the message was clear: the situation is dire.
“At some point, we’re not going to have qualified teachers to teach your children anymore,” Harry Bull, superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District, said Wednesday at the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum.
The PEBC, short for the Public Education Business Coalition, is a nonprofit that provides teacher training and runs the well-regarded Boettcher Teacher Residency Program.
Report after report shows more teachers leaving the profession and fewer young people signing up to replace them in Colorado and nationwide. The imbalance hits harder in a few key areas such as math and science, and rural schools have gone to extraordinary lengths to hire and keep teachers. Some rural schools have even begun hiring teachers from outside the country.
PEBC officials said they hoped Wednesday’s event would spark an ongoing statewide conversation to tackle the shortage. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, in her opening remarks, said she’d take any suggestions from the business or education community to the state legislature, which kicks off a new session in January.
She said the state’s teacher shortage is “the most important issue facing us as a state.”
Here are three themes we heard at the forum:
If we can’t give teachers more money, we at least owe them respect and recognition.
The crowd went wild — and Twitter lit up — when Bull suggested it was time to start giving teachers the respect they deserved. Teaching is more complex than ever, and who would want to be a teacher when “the public blames them for everything that is wrong for society,” he asked.
Boom! Harry Bull Jr. from Cherry Creek School District just dropped the mic at #PEBCSupForum.
— Matthew Kaskavitch (@socialmatt) November 16, 2016
Bull called on business leaders and members of the public to drop the negative rhetoric and spend time in the state’s classrooms.
Others, such as Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, said teachers want to be treated like professionals, and that it’s up to district officials and principals to harness teachers’ passions.
Recognition, the superintendents said, can come in a variety of forms.
Linda Reed, superintendent of the Pagosa Springs-based Archuleta School District 50, recalled the time she gave her teachers coffee mugs embossed with the district’s new logo.
“You would have thought I gave them gold,” she said.
School leaders must meet the needs of teachers on an individual level.
One teacher retention approach superintendents say has served them well: meeting teachers where they are. That means different resources depending on the circumstances.
In Jeffco Public Schools, for examples, the district changed the way teachers were trained at a cluster of schools that educate the county’s poorest students.
Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee said that providing unique training to teachers — especially in a district such as Jeffco with urban, suburban and mountain schools — is critical to keep teachers and boost student achievement.
While student achievement hasn’t climbed at that group of Jeffco schools yet, teacher retention in one year has nearly doubled from 46 percent to 81 percent, McMinimee said.
Letting teachers provide feedback to school and district leaders is crucial. But it has to be done right.
First, go easy on the surveys, said Reed, of Archuleta.
Second, show up and shut up, McMinimee said.
“The only way you can do that is to live in their world,” he said. “It’s being there, it’s being present and listening and not passing judgment.”
And action must follow.
The whole point, the superintendents said, is to make sure teachers feel valued and like they have a stake in their school. That, they said, will help keep the best teachers in the classroom.