A strong, dedicated and effective teacher workforce is the cornerstone of a successful education system. State lawmakers can play a critical role in conditioning the environments in which teachers work and students learn. With the current teacher shortage impacting schools across the nation, it’s now more important than ever for lawmakers to do more than just admire this issue. Below are considerations for state lawmakers that could help achieve goals relating to growing the teacher workforce, covering key areas such as salaries, meaningful teacher evaluations, offering alternative pathways to the profession, and comprehensive school accountability policies beyond standardized testing.
- Focus on Competitive Salaries: Very few teachers, if any, got into the field for the money. Some survey data suggests that the issue of pay is not the driving force in strengthening the teacher workforce. That doesn’t mean, however, that lawmakers should simply ignore this issue. An effective way to attract and retain talented educators is by offering more competitive salaries. Competitive pay not only incentivizes individuals, whether they are recent college grads or seasoned professionals, to pursue teaching careers but also keeps experienced teachers in the profession. State lawmakers should prioritize allocating additional resources to ensure that teachers are compensated fairly for their dedication and hard work.
- Offer Alternative Pathways to the Profession: Traditional teacher preparation programs are not the only route to becoming an effective educator. Some individuals do not identify teaching as their “calling” until they are well into their careers. With that, state lawmakers should recognize the value of alternative pathways, like alternative certification programs, in the teaching profession. These pathways may include programs that allow individuals with expertise in a particular field, such as science or engineering, to transition into teaching without having to go through a traditional teacher education program. Or, a program that offers a personalized and affordable plan for obtaining a teaching certification for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree. Lawmakers should support and promote the development of these alternative certification programs and ensure they maintain high standards for teacher quality.
- Enact a Framework for Meaningful Teacher Evaluations: The most effective teachers want constructive feedback from their supervisors. Unfortunately, traditional teacher evaluations often rely heavily on standardized test scores, which may not provide a comprehensive view of a teacher’s effectiveness. State lawmakers should encourage the development of evaluation systems that take into account multiple factors, including classroom observations, student and parent feedback, professional development, and other locally determined contributions to the school community. This holistic approach provides a more accurate picture of a teacher’s performance.
- Improve Professional Development and Support: Investing in ongoing professional development for teachers is critical. State lawmakers should allocate funds for high-quality, job-embedded professional development programs that help educators refine their skills and stay up-to-date with the latest teaching methods and technology. Additionally, providing effective mentorship and coaching programs can offer additional support for both new and experienced teachers.
- Offer Teacher Autonomy: Offering teachers more autonomy in the classroom can lead to better student outcomes and increased job satisfaction. State lawmakers should consider policies that allow educators to have more control over their instructional methods. This trust in teachers’ professional judgment can improve morale and creativity in the classroom.
- Encourage Diversity: Diversity among teachers is essential to meet the needs of students. State lawmakers should implement policies and programs aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers from various backgrounds, especially in urban settings. This can help create learning environments where students can better relate to their teachers.
- Enact Comprehensive School Accountability Policies: While standardized testing has been a primary focus of school accountability, state lawmakers should continue exploring avenues to broaden this approach. A comprehensive school accountability system should consider various factors, such as graduation rates, student engagement, teacher retention, and school climate. This more comprehensive approach ensures that schools are accountable for the academic and personal development of their students.
- Provide Safe and Supportive School Environments: Teachers are more effective when they work in safe and supportive environments. State lawmakers should prioritize initiatives to ensure both the physical and emotional well-being of teachers and students.
Improving the teacher workforce is an ongoing effort that requires collaboration between educators, policymakers, and the community. State lawmakers have a pivotal role in shaping the conditions that directly impact teachers and students. By focusing on competitive salaries, alternative pathways to the profession, meaningful teacher evaluations, and comprehensive school accountability policies, among other recommendations, they can make significant improvements to the teacher workforce and, ultimately, improve the quality of education for all students.