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Guest editorial (Huntington): More steps needed to fill vacant teaching jobs

Reprinted from the Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

School systems across the country are having more difficulty filling teaching positions, and the problem in rural West Virginia is particularly challenging.

Last spring, former state Superintendent Michael Martirano reported there were more than 700 teacher vacancies in the state, and as school gets started this fall, there are still hundreds of positions open.

“We have a shortage of teachers in pretty much all content areas now,” assistant state superintendent Michele Blatt told the Gazette-Mail’s Ryan Quinn last week. “Even in elementary education we’re having trouble finding [teachers].”

Salaries are a big part of the problem, especially in science and math, where qualified teachers can often earn more in private industry. But with tight budgets, significant increases in starting pay are not expected any time soon.

So, the state is considering something it can change - the often complex hiring requirements that local school systems must follow. That seems to be a good idea, especially for those who have degrees and experience in a subject area, but do not have an education degree.

For example, one of the proposals would no longer require someone with a master’s degree and a five years experience in their field to take a content knowledge test on that subject. The board also is proposing making passing scores on licensing tests good for longer periods, so applicants do not have to retake those as often.

If school systems are lucky enough to find someone with a master’s degree in science and real world experience who wants to teach, that would help get that person in the classroom more quickly. The state also is considering providing more free online courses to help potential teachers gain their certifications.

But bolder steps are certainly needed, because the interest in teaching has been falling for years. In 2006, almost 10 percent of college freshmen expressed an interest in teaching, but by 2016, that figure had dropped below 5 percent.

In addition to better starting pay, rural areas are going to need additional incentives. For example, Martirano had proposed creating “teacher corps” programs to attract young teachers to underserved areas by helping them with their student loan debts.

Education is the key to creating jobs and economic opportunity in our region. But we need good teachers in the classroom to get that job done.

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