Beilue column: A faster, cheaper track to teaching

It has been a challenge, if not a burden, for Groom Independent School District superintendent Jay Lamb and countless others across the state in similar positions. West Texas A&M University and Amarillo College hear him, and the two local higher education institutions are doing what they can to help.

The public teacher shortage may not be quite at a crisis level, but trends are showing it getting closer all the time.

“In our situation,” Lamb said, “we’re fortunate that we’re fully staffed. But a good portion of our summer was spent hiring folks, much more than usual. There were definitely thinner pastures this year. The problem is retention and just not graduating enough in the work force.”

WT and AC can do next to nothing about the causes of lack of retention and higher attrition among teachers in the post-pandemic world — stagnant pay, increased workloads, state-mandated bureaucracy and polarizing statewide politics.

What they can do is address the workforce, and they’re doing so by implementing a collaborative program to expedite a bachelor’s degree and certification while also making obtaining a degree less expensive. The program, announced at AC on Sept. 12, is One2Teach – a pathway to teaching on the fast track.

“We come together not as competing entities, but as collaborators,” said Dr. Beth Garcia, assistant dean of graduate programs and professional certifications in WT's Terry B. Rogers College of Education and Social Sciences . “We are striving to increase the teacher workforce in the Texas Panhandle and beyond.

“As educators, community members and parents, we have all heard the outcry from our schools on the shortage of teachers. This initiative will grow our own educators and put them in classrooms more quickly.”

One2Teach, a three-step program, begins by after recruited students apply to the program as high school sophomores. Students then complete 30 semester credit hours of dual-credit coursework during their junior and senior years of high school.

Following high school graduation, they will complete required courses in one year at Amarillo College before completing the required coursework over two years at WT. Those graduating from WT in the One2Teach program will receive priority placement and guaranteed interviews at their home district. School districts participating are Amarillo, Canyon, Dumas and Hereford ISDs, but students will be certified to teach in any school district.

Saving time, money

“We understand that time and cost can be barriers, so this program is designed to reduce that first year of college cost of $1,500, which is a 30 to 36 percent reduction in overall tuition and fees,” said Garcia, who also serves as WT’s Sylvia Nugent Professor of Education. “The program will also reduce the time to teacher certification by 25 percent.

“The purpose of this initiative, however, is much more than just seeking numbers for the teaching profession. With the support and training of our ISD partners and Amarillo College, we seek to train highly skilled, qualified day-one educators as they will be teaching our future, the children of the Texas Panhandle. We need teachers in the classroom but we don’t want to forsake quality.”

The state of Texas is losing teachers at a higher rate than it is producing, Kelvy Oeser, Texas Education Agency deputy commissioner of educator and support systems, told the Texas Tribune in July.

The pandemic in 2020 seemed to be a catalyst for teachers leaving the profession. The challenge of combining online and in-person teaching and bridging the inevitable learning gap gave rise to other issues.

The average pay, according to a University of Houston report, showed statewide salaries decreased from 2010 to 2019 by $1,300 a year. Demands, from the state and from districts, force teachers and administrators to do more often for less.

“I’m not faulting the state. There are some good things to be implemented, but I would need 36 hours in a day to get some of that done,” said Lamb, who as superintendent also drives a bus route, teaches two math classes and coaches tennis.

“It’s like the movie ‘Multiplicity,’ where a guy decides to get himself cloned. I need that. Everyone here does more than one thing,”

Security/safety measures are an issue—“I can tell you that teachers do not want to carry guns,” Lamb said—as well as a new one. Public schools have become a target in far-right wing politics in this election year with the stance that schools are “indoctrinating” children. Activists often take a controversial, even doctored, video of a class in the Northeast or West Coast and paint with a broad, inaccurate brush, stoking fear across the country.

School vouchers are expected to be an issue in the November election with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in support of them. Vouchers can redirect tax money to families for private and religious schools. The debate is intense on the ramifications, but, bottom line, it would mean less tax dollars for public schools, forcing them to make do with less. As it is, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 among the 50 states in spending per student.

According to the TEA, attrition rates among teachers and administrators for the last 10 years have stayed steady at 10 percent. That rose to 12 percent in 2021-22. Teacher retirement is up as well. Approximately 8,600 teachers retired in 2021, an increase of 1,000 from 2020. Numbers aren’t available for 2022.

Innovation to halt a growing trend

“In our current area, specifically Amarillo and Canyon, we can start with all our teacher positions filled,” said Dr. Darryl Flusche, Canyon ISD superintendent, “but our colleagues in other parts of the state were hundreds short that first day. That’s a likely trend if we aren’t proactive.

“Go back 10 years. For a high school social studies teacher, we might have 15 applicants to select the best from. Now we may have four or five for the same position. For specialty positions, it’s even less. For an AP chemistry teacher, who can we find?”

Approximately 75 percent of teachers and administrators in the Texas Panhandle have at least one degree from WT, a school study showed. It’s understandable if WT, along with a boost from AC, feels an obligation to try to make a difference in this teacher shortfall.

Dr. Dennis Sarine, director of teacher preparation and early childhood education at Amarillo College, cited Dr. Arthur Levine, a recent on-campus speaker. His book, “The Great Upheaval,” emphasized that today’s students are on a different pace and colleges must innovate because not be a one-size-fits-all any longer.

Jon Mark Beilue
Jon Mark Beilue

“I always wanted to say this as a football coach – ‘We brought all three phases of the game together,’” Sarine said. “We have aligned our dual credit programs with our education programs at Amarillo College and linked it with the relentless effort of WT that will provide our Panhandle with highly qualified certified teachers. Today, our region wins.”

Along with that, it’s about instilling meaning and worth to an increasingly maligned group that Dr. Tamara Clunis, Vice-President of Academic Affairs at AC, called “a noble profession.”

“We have to bring excitement back to the teaching profession,” Sarine said. “For a long time, we got complacent with teaching as just a route to go. When I teach my students in education courses, I always say we’re teaching with pride. We’re teaching with a competitive edge. We innovate and are passionate.

“It’s time for us to empower our teachers, support our teachers, love on our teachers, encourage our teachers to keep them in the classroom because they do a very, very unique job.”

Editor's note: This column originally appeared on the WT website.

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This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Beilue: Unique collaboration with WT, AC to fight teacher shortage