As schools in the South grapple with a shortage of teachers, many are turning to applicants without teaching certificates or formal training.
Alabama administrators have increasingly hired educators with emergency certifications, often in low-income, majority-black neighborhoods. Texas, meanwhile, allowed about 1 in 5 new teachers to bypass certification last year.
In Oklahoma, an “auxiliary” program allows schools to hire candidates without teacher training if they meet the qualifications of a local board. And in Florida, unlicensed military veterans can teach for up to five years using temporary certificates.
The decision to assign a class to a teacher without traditional training involves weighing trade-offs: is it better to hire uncertified candidates, even if they are not fully prepared, or to teach children in overcrowded classrooms? or led by alternates?
“I have seen what happens when there are no teachers in the classroom. I’ve seen the struggle,” Dallas Schools Administrator Maxie Johnson said just before the school board approved expanding that district’s reliance on uncertified teachers. He added: “I would rather have someone my manager has controlled, who my manager believes in, who can do the job.”
A Southern Regional Education Board analysis of 2019-20 data from 11 states found that about 4% of teachers were uncertified or teaching with emergency certification. Additionally, 10% were teaching off the field, which means, for example, they may be certified to teach English in high school but assigned to a math class in middle school.
By 2030, up to 16 million K-12 students in the region could be taught by an unprepared or inexperienced teacher, group projects.
“Shortages are getting worse and morale continues to drop for teachers,” said the association’s Megan Boren.
In Texas, the use of new, uncertified recruits has skyrocketed over the past decade. In the 2011-2012 school year, less than 7 percent of new teachers in the state — about 1,600 — lacked certification. Last year, about 8,400 of the state’s nearly 43,000 new hires were uncertified.
Dallas administrators have looked into a state program that allows districts to bypass certification requirements, often to hire industry professionals for career-related courses. The school system hired 335 teachers through the exemption in mid-September.
In Alabama, nearly 2,000 of the state’s 47,500 teachers did not have full certificates in 2020-21, the most recent year for which data is available. This is double the amount from five years earlier.
And nearly 7% of Alabama teachers were in classrooms outside of their certification areas, with the highest percentages in rural areas with high poverty rates.
Many states have relaxed requirements since the COVID-19 pandemic, but relying on uncertified teachers is nothing new. Almost all states have emergency or provisional licenses that allow someone who has not met certification requirements to teach.
Such hirings only delay the inevitable because teachers don’t tend to stick around as long as others, said Shannon Holston, policy chief for the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality.
In a 2016 study, the US Department of Education reported that 1.7% of all teachers lacked full certification. It rose to about 3% in schools that served many students of color or children learning English as well as in schools in urban and very poor areas.
The use of these educators can be concentrated in certain domains and content areas. An example: the colleges of Alabama.
Rural Bullock County, for example, had no certified math teachers last year at its college. Nearly 80% of students are black, 20% are Hispanic, and seven out of 10 students live in poverty.
Christopher Blair, the county’s former superintendent of schools, has long struggled to recruit teachers. Poorer counties cannot compete with the higher wages of neighboring districts.
Mr Blair, who resigned from his post last spring, had started a program to help certify math and science teachers in the county.
“But that’s slowly changing as the pool of teachers for all content areas dwindles,” he said.
Birmingham and Montgomery each had three colleges where more than 20% of teachers had emergency certification.
Birmingham Schools spokesperson Sherrel Stewart said officials were looking for good candidates for emergency certifications and then supporting them with strong mentorship.
“We have to think outside the box,” she said. “Because realistically, you know, that pool of applicants to teaching schools has dwindled dramatically, but the demand for high-quality educators is still there.”
The number of teachers with emergency certificates has increased significantly in rural, urban and low-income Alabama schools since 2019, when lawmakers eased restrictions on certificates.
The highest percentage of these teachers in Alabama in the 2020-2021 school year were in rural Lowndes County at an elementary school where seven of 16 teachers had an emergency certificate, up from three the previous year. . Most of the school’s 200 students come from low-income families. Only 1% of students tested achieved math proficiency that year.
For Dallas schools, “it’s about passion, not paper,” said Robert Abel, the district’s human capital management manager.
Dallas’ uncertified recruits — who must have a college degree — participate in training on classroom management and effective teaching practices. Mr. Abel said the district receives positive reports about new teachers.
Some teacher groups are concerned about inconsistent expectations of teacher candidates.
A good teacher needs sensitivity and empathy to understand how a child is motivated and what might interfere with learning, said Lee Vartanian, dean of Athens State University. A certification helps set professional standards to ensure teachers have content expertise as well as the ability to engage students, said Vartanian, who oversees the University’s College of Education. ‘Alabama.
Uncertified teachers may have some of that knowledge, he said, but not the full range.
“They’re just less systematically prepared,” he said, “and so there’s a good chance they don’t have the baggage and the understanding of where the kids are developmentally and socially.” ’emotion.”
This story was produced by the Dallas Morning News Education Lab and the Alabama Education Lab. AL.com’s Rebecca Griesbach contributed to this report.
This story is part of Tackling Teacher Shortages, a collaboration between AL.com, The Associated Press, The Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News, The Fresno Bee in California, The Hechinger Report, The Seattle Times and The Post and Courier in Charleston , South Carolina, with support from the Solutions Journalism Network.
The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.