Oklahoma Worries About The Future As Teacher Shortage Worsens

A teacher shortage in Oklahoma is reaching a critical point. Teachers in Oklahoma are among the least paid in the nation and as workplace pressures mount, school districts statewide are implementing strategies to retain and recruit teachers. At an Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force meeting, State Superintendent Janet Barresi addressed the issue:

"We're at a crisis point in this state when it comes to our teacher shortage. For years we've seen shortages in subjects such as science and math, but now we are starting to see this spread to areas such as elementary and early childhood. That's a new phenomenon and one that must be reversed."

Kim Archer of Tulsa World writes that Tulsa Public School's Board of Education plans to use civic donations to get help with recruiting and marketing from TNTP, formerly The New Teachers Project. The urban school district has faced high teacher turnover for years, but as more baby boomer teachers retire, new teacher graduates in Oklahoma are moving to higher paying states. Even suburban school districts are feeling the effect of the teacher candidate decline.

 "As most districts in the state of Oklahoma, we continue to face the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers in the upper-level science and mathematics courses as well as in the area of special education. That has been the norm for some time," said Broken Arrow Public Schools spokeswoman Tara Thompson.

Cindy Solomon, senior executive director of human resources at Union Public Schools, says they are also experiencing an application shortage in areas like special education, math, early childhood education, foreign language, art and music. The district has also had a hard time filling positions like school nurse, Media specialist and school counselor.

Union and Broken Arrow school districts have implemented new recruiting strategies that have increased their districts visibility to teacher candidates. But even with the extra measures there is no guarantee the districts will be able to fill current or future openings without changes in state funding. Union Chief Financial Officer Debbie Jacoby says "We are finding it difficult to compete with surrounding states in recruiting and retaining teachers,"

To address pressing needs in one public school, administration has been encouraging teachers certified in elementary education to add on a special education certification through Oral Roberts University's special education boot camp. Nationwide there is a shortage of special education teachers, so legislature implemented this non-traditional 150 hour intensive boot camp to help with special education teacher certification.

Lloyd Snow, superintendent at Sand Springs, said his district started the school year with six substitute teachers and an opening for a librarian.

"The pool of candidates is smaller now than I have seen in my entire career. Most in demand are librarians and math, science and special education teachers, although filling positions in all categories remains a challenge. This is a reflection of a toxic political climate where education is considered a liability, not an investment, by many of our policy makers; this is a self-imposed crisis due to a lack of leadership that should concern us all."

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