As our schools grapple with the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, it’s difficult for school leaders to plan far ahead into the future. Many have adopted an insular approach, focusing their efforts on the tangible, short-term implications of school closures and funding uncertainties. However, while the threat of the new coronavirus occupies the airwaves, the truth is that there has never been a more important — and urgent — time to make teacher recruitment a priority.
The U.S. anticipates a shortage of 200,000 teachers over the next five years, and as school districts across the country begin looking to fill positions for this fall, many pre-service teachers now find themselves stuck at home, unable to fulfill their required clinical hours and student teaching placements. While programs are showing flexibility by counting distance learning sessions and virtual professional development toward their requirements, some student teachers fear that this still won’t be enough to obtain certification. The result could be a disastrous shortage of new teachers once schools resume session.
Now more than ever, we need strong leadership from state education chiefs, who should immediately call upon all state certification boards to issue waivers for pre-service teachers unable to complete their requirements due to COVID-19. If the nation’s education leaders act quickly, they can prevent making our existing teacher shortages even more dire.
We know this is true because we’re seeing it right now in Kentucky, where the state’s teacher certification board announced they would do precisely that. Kentucky’s waivers will allow student teachers to bypass certain certification tests and observation requirements and eliminate some of the 70-day requirements of their placements. As schools across the Bluegrass remain closed until at least May 1st, these waivers offer a glimpse of hope that a steady flow of new educators will be ready to get to work as soon as it’s safe to return. We’ll need them, too: Nearly 2,000 positions have already been posted.
However, without strong leadership from state education chiefs, there’s no guarantee that pre-service teachers across state lines will catch the same break. Unless these waivers can be guaranteed for all prospective educators who need them, how many may be forced to make up parts of their requirements? How many will be certified at all?
Striking the right balance between rigor and flexibility has always been the aim of teacher certification requirements, but during this national crisis, we must accept trade-offs. It’s only right that states immediately waive the requirements for pre-service teachers who are already on the cusp of graduating. We can only hope that our leaders act quickly before our schools face another crisis — an ever-widening shortfall of teachers at a time when they are most needed.