Responding to statewide teaching shortages, Universities across Florida have ratcheted up their production of teaching degrees, offering new programs and incentives aimed at attracting a broad pool of students.
With the fifth largest College of Education in the nation, USF has played a major role in addressing this shortage, creating degrees and programs that allow students to make their way toward a career in teaching through many different paths. Last semester, USF’s College of Education -which according to US News and World Report, ranks higher than three-quarters of the nation in their educator preparation quality – graduated its 50,000th student in 50 years.
“Anytime we have a workforce need in a state, the University has a responsibility to provide individuals who are well educated and competent to satisfy the need,” said Michael Smith, the associate dean for Educator Preparation in the College of Education. “We’ll do everything we can to provide well-qualified teachers.”
The statewide teacher shortage is a multi-pronged problem, said College of Education Dean Colleen Kennedy, with low salaries, poor working conditions and a lack of professional development opportunities all contributing.
“There is no silver bullet to end the teacher shortage,” Kennedy said.
The dire need for teachers in Florida has been created by a perfect storm of factors: a rapidly increasing student population, surges in retiring teachers and a 2002 constitutional amendment reducing class sizes in kindergarten through high school.
Stewart said shortages in leadership jobs, such as principal and dean positions, also play a role in the problem.
“The most effective schools are those with strong leaders and a vision,” Stewart said. Legislators and school boards have attempted to combat the problem with a hodgepodge of funding and institutional reforms, but the problem still remains. Florida needs 30,000 additional teachers this year and 20,000 more every year for the next decade.
USF now offers several programs to help address these problems, including a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree for non-education majors in one of 13 different certification areas.
“It’s really designed for those individuals who seek a career change at USF later in their career when they decide they want to become a teacher,” Stewart said.
The College of Education has also collaborated with the College of Arts and Sciences on a 3+2 program that allows students to earn two degrees – a bachelor degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and a MAT degree from the College of Education – in five years. Students majoring in the highest need teaching areas – math, science and foreign language – are attracted by this program, said Stewart.
“Many students in math and science tend to change their mind and to some degree. This gives them a chance to change direction,” he said. “And we’re excited about that.”
More than 30 percent of teachers who teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) failed to meet qualification standards in 2004, according to the Florida Department of Education. At USF, teaching requirements satisfy all the ESOL requirements, especially for English, Elementary Education and Special Education degrees.
“(The College of Education) has a very strong emphasis (on meeting ESOL requirements), it is so important when preparing a teacher to enter the professional world that they are fully prepared,” Kennedy said.
USF also offers a variety of online and distance learning alternatives. Classes for a MAT are available at flexible times online and at night, Stewart said.
“We offer a tremendous amount of courses online,” said Stewart. “We really have tried to have a schedule to accommodate a variety of individuals’ working and family situations.”
Progressive steps have also been made nationally to minimize the shortage. The Interstate Agreement on Qualification of Educational Personnel allows the easy interchange of teachers between 37 different states. A person qualified to teach in any one of the 36 other states involved in the agreement can teach in Florida without any additional certification, Stewart said.
“This makes a difference because we are a state-approved institution and have very high standards,” he said.
Kennedy said that ideally, society and the state should act as equal partners in making needed changes, offering more loan forgiveness options to teachers and providing them with needed technology, such as laptops. Kennedy also said that banks could help teachers buy homes and take out affordable mortgages.
Although changes need to be made, Kennedy remains proud and optimistic about the future of Florida’s education.
“I am absolutely thrilled in preparing so many teachers in such a short history … it is an exciting time in education,” Kennedy said.