By Paula Westerman
It’s not an easy time to be a teacher. The challenges affecting educators threaten the sustainability of high-quality learning for all students.
A recent Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing demonstrated how the pandemic has compounded current state-wide educator staffing shortages. When teachers make the difficult decision to leave the profession, the situation is further exacerbated when the position can’t be filled.
There are many prospective teachers in Pennsylvania who have not been able to start and/or finish their degree due to significant barriers. Cost, convenience, and life responsibilities create opportunity gaps that contribute to our teacher shortage in addition to COVID-era effects.
For the sake of our children — and future generations — we must address this talent pipeline deficiency now by first examining these barriers.
Student debt from earning a college degree can permanently close doors for those aspiring to become teachers.
It is also difficult for working adults or caregivers to complete the required four-year degree by commuting to a college campus.
But if Pennsylvania’s teacher-training programs address these barriers, we can open a talent pipeline of teachers, including those from underrepresented communities.
I’m a proud faculty member at Western Governors University Teachers College, the nation’s largest college of education, which is accredited, nonprofit, completely online and the pioneer of the competency-based model at scale.
Through affordability and flexibility, WGU’s Teachers College has graduated more than 16,700 students across the country since the start of the pandemic.
Teachers provide a valuable service that shapes young lives. The impact is immense as children carry those lessons into adulthood. Just imagine how we could benefit our children and address Pennsylvania’s educator shortage if higher education were accessible to more prospective teachers.
Paula Westerman, Ed.D., is a senior instructor at Western Governors University, a non-profit private, online university based in Millcreek, Utah. She writes from Lancaster, Pa.
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