About 30 educators, administrators and parents gathered Monday night in Ignacio with the Colorado Department of Education to discuss ways to attract young people to work in education. The meeting was one in a series of meetings the state departments of Education and Higher Education are hosting throughout the state as Colorado faces a teacher shortage.
The number of college students graduating with education degrees, as well as those interested in the field, has been steadily falling since 2010, said Mary Bivens, director of Educator Development with the Colorado Department of Education.
Among areas facing personnel shortages are secondary math and science, special education, bilingual education and speech pathologists.
The series of statewide meetings came about after a state law sponsored by Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was passed this year to require the education departments to develop action plans to resolve teacher shortages. Shortages are more prominent in districts in rural Colorado, but suburban and urban districts are likely to begin experiencing them as well.
CDE research said several key issues that keep people from being interested in the education field include:
External perceptions of what teachers do and how they work.Limited salaries for new educators.Increasing costs of a college degree.Retention also is an issue, according to the research. In Colorado, nearly 25 percent of teachers leave the profession in the first four years. The reasons most cited for leaving are building climate and relationships, poor pay and large workload.
Bivens and her colleague, Molly Gold, asked participants to discuss and provide feedback about perceptions of teaching; compensation and salary; and retention, preparation and working conditions.
Perceptions of teachingWithout a major infusion of money for teacher salaries, the education field won’t attract the best college students, said Bruce Dryburgh, a board member of Archuleta School District in Pagosa Springs.
Naomi Quintana, a parent in the Ignacio district, said small school districts need a public relations person, or perhaps a shared position between districts, to tell success stories in local schools to the community and media.
Compensation and salaryStarting pay for teachers in Colorado ranges from less than $24,000 annually in small districts to $40,000, Bivens said.
Some meeting attendees said more people won’t consider entering the field unless the state increases education funding and teacher salaries.
Some districts, including Ignacio, have tried to provide housing for teachers. Dolores School District provides day care for its teachers with children.
Natalie Howard, director at Silver Spruce Academy, which provides supplemental learning for home school students in Southwest Colorado, said she finds qualified teaching candidates because she offers 32-hour work-weeks and, more importantly, flexibility.
Other ideas included merit pay for the best teachers, mentorships, or forgiving student loan debt.
Letitia Taylor, director of education for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, said an option is alternative licenses to allow broader teaching opportunities. Taylor said she has credentials to teach college, but they do not translate into a K-12 teaching license.
Bayfield School District Superintendent Amy Lyons said she had a qualified candidate from another state who was told she needed six more hours of college credit to get her Colorado license, and she didn’t want to spend the time or money to obtain it.
Requiring every teacher to have a bachelor’s degree is a roadblock, one educator said.
RetentionFuschetto said providing housing for teachers to rent in Ignacio helps attract some staff, “but it’s not enough.”
He advocates for higher salaries. His district has been advertising for a family consumer science position since February and has received one application.
McLachlan said a legislative committee is examining school financing in the state, which hasn’t changed in 20 years, and the current system “is not working.”
Lyons said the shortage hasn’t affected the Bayfield district as much because many people are interested in teaching in Southwest Colorado, “but the reality is, it’s challenging to make the move here,” she said. The district was able to fill its open positions this summer, but Lyons said she was still hiring last week. In the past, she would have most teaching positions filled in June.