- In an effort to gain more qualified special education teachers, the San Jose Unified School District is starting a new “Rise into Special Education” initiative that will provide free tuition at San Jose State University, access to an Apple laptop and mentoring opportunities in the classroom to help instructional assistants earn their teaching credentials in the field, the Mercury News reports.
- The program is designed to help address the effects on the district of a nationwide shortage of special education teachers, which has been described in a Learning Policy Institute report as a “five-alarm fire.”
- Under the new program, instructional assistants who have already shown promise working with special education students in the district will pursue their credential while continuing to work in that role under a mentor for the first year, before serving as intern teachers under mentors for the second year. In return, they will commit to a four-year term working as special education teachers within the district.
Teacher shortages continue to be a problem for many states nationwide. The shortage of special education teachers is especially widespread, as the number of trained special education teachers has dropped by roughly 20% over the past 10 years, while the number of students needing those teachers has barely dropped at all.
District administrators have employed a number of strategies to address the problem, including adding support staff, developing paraprofessionals into special education teachers, targeting interventions, adding online services, and seeking more funding to attract special education teachers.
However, the issue can only be addressed long-term by encouraging more prospective educators to pursue the field to meet the demand. Grow-your-own strategies seem to be the most effective at this because they target people like paraprofessionals or instructional assistants who are already embedded — and hopefully committed — to the school district.
By offering educational assistance and mentorship opportunities, programs like these can attract people to hard-to-fill areas of need. There are resources available to help school districts develop grow-your-own programs, but these programs will vary depending on the resources available and will usually require a partnership with an institution of higher learning. This idea may work better in urban rather than rural areas, where access to colleges and universities is more limited. But online college programs could fill those gaps.
Partnering with local colleges and universities is just one option being used to address teacher shortages in other high-need areas, as well. Many school districts have shortages of science and math teachers, for example. And many are also working to increase the diversity of their teacher population or hire more bilingual teachers. Rural areas in particular face special challenges in attracting teachers with certain qualifications, requiring specialized solutions and resources.
As school districts seek to address shortages, they often employ bonuses or offer special perks such as child care and gym memberships to make the positions more attractive. But the Learning Policy Institute suggests the best long-term strategy to solve teacher shortages is to strengthen the profession itself.