In the words of Josue Tamarez Torrez, Chair Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force, “We know that the single most significant in-school element influencing children’s outcomes is their teacher. It is essential that no learner in Texas attends class without a teacher of record or without a teacher who is adequately prepared.”
While statements like this provide the ideal guiding principle, achieving the ideal is not usually that simple. For instance, what do we do when there are not enough teachers?
In recent times, schools have been faced with such difficult decisions and have turned to hiring non-certified teachers in a desperate bid to fill the growing number of open positions. Kelvey Oeser, a deputy commissioner for the Texas Education Agency, estimates that 40 percent of newly recruited teachers in 2021 were either uncertified or obtained their certification through an alternate program.
This type of hiring practice, however, raises questions about how ready such teachers are to take on a classroom.
The Teacher Shortage Situation – How Bad is it?
According to a recent Charles Butt Foundation poll, about three-quarters of Texas teachers say they’ve given the idea of quitting teaching considerable thought.
One-third of those who had pondered quitting updated their resumes. Sixty-eight percent either applied for or had interviews for new positions. More than a quarter of these teachers enrolled in classes to prepare for a different job.
In the sample of teachers, only four out of ten anticipate remaining in their current employment for more than three years, while 61 percent of respondents, excluding those close to retirement age, anticipate leaving the teaching profession in less than five years.
The COVID pandemic also exacerbated teacher shortages in many regions and content areas. Still, the problem is not new. Over the past decade, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined by more than a third. Experts say a combination of low pay and poor working conditions has deterred people from pursuing a career in the classroom.
Pros and Cons of Hiring Non-certified Teachers
Non-certified teachers are so categorized because they haven’t gone through the appropriate teacher certification programs.
The use of uncertified teachers has been resisted by some people and institutions, who claim that while the certification system is not perfect, it does imply some amount of dedication to the profession as well as some level of training and preparation. The currently available information also demonstrates that novice educators frequently experience difficulties at first, regardless of whether they receive formal training.
Furthermore, there are also presumptions that using uncertified teachers will hurt student performance. Some people are equally concerned about employing uncertified teachers in the primary grades, where young children are establishing vital intellectual foundations.
Holding a less critical view, Toni Templeton, a research scientist at the Education Research Center at the University of Houston, calls for a rethink about the criticisms about the use of uncertified teachers.
“We should not be quick to make assumptions about the districts’ decisions to hire uncertified teachers,” she said. “The increase in uncertified teachers could be due to districts exercising flexibilities granted to them by state policies.”
States like Texas, give schools a wide range of options for hiring non-certified teachers. One is the possibility of hiring experts from different sectors to teach professional and technical education courses on topics that are relevant to their own. However, such hires are expected to complete training in classroom management and productive teaching methods. They must also fulfill several additional requirements, such as having a college degree.
So, the use of uncertified teachers is not a totally unguarded or uncontrolled approach.
What the Future Might Hold
Non-certified teachers open up a new talent pipeline in the education space, one that should be considered carefully as a tool to overcome teacher shortages, both in the long and short term, without lowering the standards of entering the profession.
While hiring non-certified teachers does not provide a permanent respite to the challenge of teacher shortages, it does assist in easing the pressure on school leaders, ensuring that they can focus on improving learning.
At the root of the necessity to hire non-certified teachers are more complex issues that should be addressed. After all, if teachers were not leaving the profession because of the lack of job satisfaction, we may not be talking about using uncertified teachers. Teachers deserve all the respect and support they can get to do their jobs properly.