K-State grads fill teaching vacancies

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K-State’s teaching department is working to help eliminate the teacher shortage in Kansas.

Kansas is facing the highest number of teacher vacancies in the state’s history -1,144 before this school year, said Kansas Commissioner of Education in an Aug. 22 Associated Press report. The greatest shortages were for special education, science, math and fine-arts educators.

This issue is the result of several factors, Posny said. Thirty-six percent of the teachers in Kansas will be eligible to retire within the next five years, she said.

There are about 25 percent less students entering teaching fields, she said. This, paired with low pay and few benefits, creates a huge issue.

“If nothing is done, the problem will only be exacerbated,” Posny said.

For the past 25 years, K-State’s College of Education has had a steadily increasing enrollment and graduation rate, said Michael Holen, dean of education.

About 400 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students graduate from the College of Education each year. In addition, the retention rate is very high- more than 90 percent of students who begin in the education program graduate in it, Holen said.

“In theory, enough students graduate each year to fill all the vacancy positions in Kansas,” Holen said. “However, distribution of teachers within the state is uneven, and there are not enough students in selected fields.”

The majority of education students specialize in elementary education, while secondary education majors are becoming more scarce, especially in math and science fields.

The College of Education always is looking to increase scholarship money and to target scholarships for students in particular fields, such as math or special education.

About 20 percent of K-State education graduates seek work outside of Kansas, where pay and benefits are much better, Posny said. Kansas ranks No. 38 among starting teacher salaries in the country.

“I don’t think I will be teaching in Kansas,” said Jamie Shmalberg, sophomore in elementary education. “The average starting pay is pretty low.”

Shmalberg said she is intent on teaching, thanks in part to K-State’s engaging education program.

Holen said students get hands-on practice early. Curriculum components, such as early field experience, allow students to travel to local classrooms and assist teachers.

“We like students to get experience in the field as early as possible,” he said.

In addition to K-State’s successful teaching program and efforts, the state of Kansas passed certain measures to make it easier for people to become teachers. The Kansas Legislature allocated more money toward education as well.

For example, Kansas now offers both temporary and restricted teaching licenses so people can begin teaching immediately and complete their licensing requirements later. Also, teachers from other states wishing to teach in Kansas no longer have as strict GPA requirements to be licensed in Kansas.

“We wanted to look at different aspects of the individual, not just their GPA,” Posny said.

K-State’s efforts and those of the state should incur change, but more needs to be done.

“This is only the beginning,” Posny said.

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