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The Kentucky Teacher Crisis—A Closer Look at a Concerning Problem

Teachers gathered in a group

Tue, 05/25/2021 - 10:00am

If you think back to your childhood, who are some of the adults, other than your family members, who still stand out in your mind, the ones you hold in high esteem? If you are like most people, the answer will include a teacher or a coach who invested time in you as a child. Teachers have a lasting impact on their students that they remember well into their adult years.

Teachers are a valuable part of modern society. They take the time to invest in children so the future population will be well-educated and ready for the demands it will face. Teachers also protect the social and emotional development of their students, helping them grow into valuable members of society. From the very first day in the classroom to the moment they graduate from senior high, teachers are making a difference.

Yet in spite of the benefits of the education students receive, the nation, including Kentucky, is facing a teacher crisis. There are simply not enough educators to meet the educational needs of today’s students. The teacher shortage is a growing problem, and it is one that University of the Cumberlands continues to address with high-quality educator training programs.

Here is a closer look at what the teacher shortage is, why it is occurring, how it is impacting Kentucky and what options are available to teachers who want to stand in the gap.

What is a Teacher Shortage?

Across the nation, and in Kentucky specifically, the number of new teachers coming through colleges to enter the workforce is not sufficient to meet the current demands of the education sector. That could spell trouble for our future. Without enough teachers, the overall quality of education drops and potentially impacts the future of the country.

A teacher shortage happens when key subject areas lack enough teachers to teach them. This occurs for a number of reasons. Rising student bodies combined with fewer new teachers and an increasing number of teachers nearing retirement are all contributing factors to this problem. What’s worse is fewer people are entering teaching programs in college, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

Contributing Factors to the Teacher Shortage

Several factors contribute to the teacher shortage in Kentucky and in the rest of the world, and the problem is not new. During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, many districts were forced to let some teachers go as budgets got tighter. Yet student populations continued to grow. These factors laid the foundation for the current crisis.

This is a complex problem with multiple causes. The Foundation for Economic Education says increased testing demands are to blame. Teachers who are forced to regularly test students to meet national standards are unable to spend their time teaching the way they intended, and this creates a tremendous amount of pressure.

As the educational shortage continues, more students are placed into the available classes. This adds to the pressure teachers face because they have more work to do to grade and prepare for each day in the classroom. This added pressure is making it harder for teachers to do their jobs.

Finally, wages for educational occupations in Kentucky are increasing, but not at the rate they need to be. Some up-and-coming teachers may be choosing to focus their education elsewhere to receive better pay.

Yet, there are still teachers passionate about teaching in Kentucky in spite of these challenges. The report found that 61% of graduates from Kentucky education programs choose to stay in the state, which is higher than the national average of 57%.

What is the solution to the teacher shortage? It is a complex problem with complex solutions. However, one part of the solution is having more teachers graduate with education degrees to enter the workforce.

The Kentucky Teacher Shortage

As alluded to earlier, this problem is particularly severe in Kentucky according to data from the Kentucky Council on Secondary Education. In January 2021, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education released its Education Sector Analysis. According to this report, Kentucky will have close to 93,300 jobs available to educators by 2030. The education sector is expected to grow by 3% in the state over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, there are not enough students entering colleges and universities to address this demand.

This increased demand comes at a time when the state already lacks sufficient educators. The educator workforce already has a teacher and educator gap. According to the report, the number of annual job openings in Kentucky for educators who have at least a bachelor’s degree will include 2,200 jobs that can’t be fulfilled due to this shortage.

Interestingly, though the Kentucky education shortage is a serious problem, it is not unique to the state. In fact, the teacher shortage will expand by 7% over the next ten years nation-wide. Though the problem in Kentucky is serious, it’s a problem every state faces. 

Diversity a Problem Among Teachers in Kentucky

Another concern found in the study was the lack of diversity in the teacher population. Even though Kentucky is a diverse community, its minority populations are not represented well in the education workforce. In Kentucky, 13% of all adults age 25 and older are people of color. However, college graduates with a degree in education in Kentucky tend to be white females age 35 and younger, and only about 10% of all new education graduates are people of color. Only about 27% of graduates used Pell Grant money, which indicates education graduates are not coming from low-income populations, either.

Different Types of Teaching Degrees

To address the teacher shortage, communities need to understand the different types of teaching degrees. Some options include:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Education. This is the most common degree for educators looking to teach in elementary or secondary education. Graduates are trained in educational theory and practice and are able to apply for state teaching certification after graduation. This degree requires a semester of classroom teaching under an experienced teacher.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Education with Subject Area Focus. Teachers who are considering teaching in middle or high school will often focus their undergraduate training on a specific subject area. For example, a bachelor’s in Math Education prepares a student to teach math on the secondary level.
  • Associate Degree in Teaching and Education. This degree is primarily for preschool teachers or those who want to tutor, but not teach in the classroom. It can be a starting point for a bachelor’s degree program.
  • Master’s Degree in Teaching. Most new teachers can start with just a bachelor’s degree, but higher salaries and career flexibility can be available to those who start with a master’s degree. Master’s degree programs typically take 36 to 54 credits to complete. A master’s in teaching focuses primarily on the practice of teaching and is ideal for those who have a bachelor’s but want to enter teaching or add another subject or grade level to their qualifications.
  • Master’s Degree in Education. This degree is designed for people who already hold teaching licenses, but who may want to work in administration or apply for a role that requires a master’s degree in some way within their district. Certification concentrations help teachers focus on a specific area within their degree, such as School Counseling or Literacy Specialist.

Start Your Educational Career Now with University of the Cumberlands

School districts across Kentucky and the nation need more qualified teachers with the right credentials to serve as classroom teachers or substitutes. This profession is almost guaranteed to have vacancies in the coming years, which means job security for those with the right training. If you are passionate about meeting the needs of the next generation and feel that a career in education is right for you, you can be a part of the solution to the teacher shortage problem. 

It all starts with the right degree. University of the Cumberlands offers the options you need to make a difference. 

If you are interested in learning more about the undergraduate or graduate education degrees offered at the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.