To the Editor:
An important part of being an effective educator is being a continuous learner. A reflective practitioner is open-minded and can learn from their colleagues, their students, and is always looking for ways to perfect their craft. We need to create a variety of ways for individuals to enter the teaching profession and build their instructional and leadership capacity, so they stay.
Connecticut has struggled with a teacher shortage for many years. The 2023 Voices from the Classroom national survey conducted by Educators for Excellence reported that 88% of teachers report that the current teacher shortages are a serious problem. As a result of the teacher shortage in Connecticut, students are being affected in a multitude of ways – lack of teacher diversity, lack of individualized attention, high student to teacher ratios and much more.
The teaching certification process has a lot to do with the current teacher shortage in Connecticut. As it stands, the current process in Connecticut is not cost effective, does not provide new teachers with much support or mentorship, and creates unnecessary obstacles. This prevents new teachers from entering the classroom, and continues to increase the burden and workload on the teachers who are already there, pushing teachers out of the classroom, which only makes the problem worse. If we want to increase teacher recruitment, we need to modernize our current regulations, helping potential educators to enter the classroom. We are currently limited in our applicant pool because the state makes it hard for those, like paraprofessionals or substitute teachers, who already have classroom experience, and those who are looking to make a career change. We need to have multiple pathways to help with their transitions.
Additionally, we need to prioritize mentorship and classroom experience through the certification process. As someone who completed an alternate route to certification through Teach for America (TFA), my connections through this program provided me with a much-needed support network when I was new to teaching. Having other diverse teachers with experiences similar to my own, who I can rely on and thought partner with, has helped me throughout my 15 years as an educator. Support networks like these are wonderful resources for teachers to have as we navigate some of the difficulties and struggles of working in the classroom. It allows us to feel less alone and more invigorated in our abilities.
Connecticut has made great progress with “grow your own” teaching programs, a method that has shown to be successful in recruiting new teachers. These programs are ways for students to be introduced to teaching in their own schools, allowing them unique experiences. I was lucky enough to be placed in my home district of Hartford when I entered into my teaching residency with TFA. This proved to be invaluable in my early years of teaching. As a former student in Hartford, I had existing relationships with many of the educators and administrators working alongside me. Many of these educators took me under their wings, mentoring me, providing me with classroom supplies, and supporting me as a new teacher.
I noticed that my colleagues in TFA who did not have this same experience as me struggled a bit more with their transition. They were not receiving the same level of support or mentorship as I was, because they were in an environment where they were a stranger. This is an issue many new educators face, no matter what pathway they choose. Regardless of the journey into the classroom, we need to ensure that new teachers receive mentorship from veteran teachers to help them acclimate and stay in the classroom. Additionally, without having a cohort of new teachers to lean on, new educators can easily become overwhelmed.
Recently, Connecticut legislators introduced H.B. 6879, which is a bill that would take steps toward ensuring the modernization of certification requirements in Connecticut. The current process poses many challenges to potential educators, and does not offer pathways to accommodate people’s vast experiences–like paraprofessionals or career changers. The current process also poses great obstacles for teachers transitioning to the Northeast from other states. If we want to address the teacher shortage and bring quality educators into the profession, we have to expand the options for potential teachers.
To ensure that we address the teacher shortage, we need to make systemic changes to the ways we recruit and retain teachers, and a major step is modernizing our teaching certification process. By creating a commission to modernize the teaching certification process in Connecticut, we can make this happen. I strongly urge legislators to pass H.B. 6879.
Syeita Rhey-Fisher is a literacy coach in the Hartford Public School District.