Like almost every other state in the country, Louisiana is facing a critical shortage of teachers. It was happening before the pandemic, but the impact of COVID 19 on schools has only made things worse. This year the Louisiana Legislature took some initial steps to try to address the problem, but this is an issue that’s been in the making for some time. The ultimate solutions will come only with a sustained, long-term approach.
Lawmakers are growing more and more aware of the problem with teacher shortages. Last year they created the Teacher Recruitment, Recovery, and Retention Task Force, which CABL co-chairs. The group is charged with exploring a number of questions surrounding the teacher workforce and making recommendations for adding and keeping more qualified educators in the classroom.
The Task Force developed some initial recommendations in late 2021. This year the Legislature reviewed them and took some important first steps to address the situation. Among them:
- A $1,500 pay raise for teachers. Pay is not the only thing impacting the number of teachers in the classroom, but compensation is important. Louisiana will have to continue to do more on this front to make the teaching profession more competitive.
- Creation of the GEAUX Teach Fund. This is a fund that was established to offer scholarships to students in state-approved teacher preparation programs. Research has shown that the costs of these programs and fees associated with becoming a certified teacher can be barriers to enrollment. A $5 million initial appropriation into this fund should help.
- Changing requirements for enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Louisiana was one of a shrinking number of states that required aspiring educators to take an entrance exam just to enroll in teacher preparation programs. This was shown to be a major obstacle and it is projected this change could increase enrollment by as many as 1,000 students per year.
- Streamlined teacher certification. Certification is still a somewhat rigorous process, but this legislation makes it easier for individuals with a master’s degree, but no education training, to earn certification over time and also allows a streamlined process for certification of teachers from out of state.
- Rehiring retired teachers. One way to get some teachers in the classroom quickly is to rehire retired teachers. That’s tricky because of impacts that can have on the teachers’ retirement system. Two bills were passed that could encourage a limited group of already retired teachers to return to work with minimal impact on the retirement system.
It’s hoped that passage of these measures will help address some of the teacher shortage problems Louisiana faces, but the work of the Task Force has shown that there are some entrenched issues within the teaching profession that must also be addressed.
Recent listening sessions with teachers conducted by the Task Force staff revealed a number of recurring themes:
- Administrators are out of touch with the everyday experiences of classroom teachers.
- The teaching profession has become more difficult since COVID.
- New teachers want more access to seasoned mentor teachers.
- There is a desire among teachers for opportunities to provide more input in their schools and be involved in more professional development experiences.
- Teachers want to be appreciated.
That last one is a something the Task Force has heard countless times over the last year. Teachers feel that while their work is both difficult and critical to the future of the state, what they do is undervalued and they are not treated like the professionals they are. Building off that sentiment, preliminary results of a Task Force survey of about 6,000 teachers showed nearly half do not feel like they get the recognition they deserve for doing good work. That’s a demoralizing sentiment that does not bode well if ignored.
Of course, these issues won’t be resolved overnight. Teaching is a challenging profession and teachers across the country believe the current political situation in many communities is only adding to the burden. Still, as we focus on the workforce needs of our businesses, we should not forget the teaching workforce in our schools. They are the very backbone of our economy and the foundation for our future.