Addressing teacher shortages in Kentucky

Our collective vision for Kentucky public education should be a system where all students, regardless of race, zip code, or income, can succeed. Every student deserves effective educators and high-quality learning experiences that will help lead them to postsecondary success. However, teacher shortages present a major challenge to that vision.

The “teacher shortage crisis” often goes misunderstood, yet it’s still a harsh reality in communities across Kentucky. Regions like Appalachia, in Eastern Kentucky, continually struggle to recruit effective teachers into their rural schools. Louisville’s lowest-performing schools face challenges with turnover, prompting district leaders to begin certifying non-education majors. And of course,  the lack of diversity in Kentucky’s teaching force remains a concern as well — roughly 15% of Kentucky students are of color, yet only 4% of teachers can say the same. New recruitment initiatives like “grow-your-own” educator pipelines and renewed funding for diversity programs must be priorities for Kentucky to effectively address its teacher shortages.

 But recruitment is only half the battle. Nearly half of all new teachers will end up leaving the profession, meaning Kentucky must elevate its retention efforts as well. We’ve seen our state’s landmark teacher retention initiative, the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP), get defunded and axed with no prospects of a quick return. As teachers, we’re acutely aware of the chronic lack of funding for curriculum and technology and its implications for teacher burnout. New teachers can especially struggle to adapt as the gap between their preparation and the realities of teaching becomes evident. Any meaningful impact on Kentucky’s teacher shortages must inevitably involve new approaches to teacher retention. 

Working together to solve teacher shortages

 That brings us to the good news: We CAN work together to help solve teacher shortages.  In fact, the research on best practices for teacher recruitment and retention is clear. 

 Policymakers like state legislators and Kentucky Department of Education officials can absolutely help address teacher shortages through the policies they craft and the recommendations they make. But the policy approach is just one avenue for tackling recruitment and retention challenges in Kentucky. 

 To steal a quote from my friend Vicki Phillips, “Nobody knows teaching like teachers.” Classroom teachers, administrators, and local school boards and superintendents play an incredible role in the education approach to solving teaching shortages. Developing new teacher mentorships and “grow-your-own educator” initiatives are just a few of the things educators can do to help build teacher pipelines in their school districts.

 Finally, addressing Kentucky’s shortages isn’t possible without a strong community approach. Student voice groups and parent organizations can provide unique perspectives of the need for greater diversity in the profession. Colleges and universities are already proving to be tremendous partners in accomplishing that. And, by working to develop partnerships with local governments, non-profits, and businesses, school districts can get a leg up on building their own teacher pipelines right in their backyard.

 Kentucky students don’t have time to spare. The time to act is now.

Action Items for Teacher Recruitment and Retention in KY

Actions for Policymakers

1. Create a statewide teacher shortage task force to identify new alternative pathways to certification.

2. Select a commissioner who has a proven track record in prioritizing teacher recruitment and will implement those same practices in Kentucky.

3. Issue guidance for districts seeking to develop teacher mentorship programs in the absence of the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP).

4. Identify new methods to sustain the Kentucky Academy of Equity in Teaching (KAET) or develop a similar initiative to better recruit more teachers of color.

5. Create a mini-grant or cash fund for schools that adopt the Teaching and Learning Pathway or Educators Rising. 

6. Develop microcredentials for educators to elevate the profession and spur innovation.

Actions for Educators

1. Adopt the Teaching and Learning Pathway within high schools as a means of “growing your own” educators.

2. Sponsor Educators Rising programs in middle/high schools to recruit local talents to the profession.

3. Sponsor new teacher mentorship programs within schools to strengthen retainment in the absence of KTIP.

4. Create and share blog posts, videos, and other positive messaging using the hashtag #IAmKYEd.

5. Provide high-quality professional development for new and emergency-certified teachers.

6. Nominate 3 highly effective educators you know to become GoTeachKY Ambassadors or Teachers Helping Teachers mentors.

Actions for Communities

1. Launch a campaign to recruit individuals with teaching certifications who aren’t currently teaching.

2. Create coalitions and partnerships with local community colleges and four-year universities to build strong, diverse pools of future educators.

3. Build local government, non-profit, and business partnerships to help recruit and retain teachers. 

It’s time to take action.

Developing a strong, diverse teacher recruitment pipeline is the key to moving the needle for our most marginalized students. That’s why we are proud to support initiatives like GoTeachKY that are working to do exactly that.

We invite all Kentuckians to take action today. Check out GoTeachKY to learn more about recruitment and retention efforts in the Bluegrass, and if you’re a policymaker, educator, or concerned community member, commit to implementing the above actions in your community. If we want our Commonwealth to once again be a national leader in education, we must quickly ramp up our efforts to put the best and brightest in a Kentucky classroom. 

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