US educator talks teacher recruitment, retention

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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ROSE HALL, St James — A US educator has disclosed that the United States is currently struggling to retain and recruit trained mathematics and science teachers.

“Quite honestly, it is difficult to recruit teachers, in general,” dean of education pathway at Broward College in Florida, Dr Elizabeth Molina, said yesterday, as she offered recommendations to address the issue.

“The state of Florida requires students to pass a general knowledge exam, which assesses the overall math, English and writing knowledge in order to be admitted into a teaching bachelor programme,” she continued. “So that alone is another hurdle.

“Nationwide, candidates who wish to be teachers are struggling to pass this exam. In addition to difficulty with recruitment, we struggle with teacher retention,” Dr Molina said, while speaking at the opening ceremony of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) 55th Annual Conference at Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa in St James.

The US educator noted that approximately one-third of teachers leave the teaching profession after less than three years of service, while almost half of them leave within the first five years.

As a means of tackling the issue, Dr Molina said programmes have been designed to recruit and spark interest in teaching.

“My team and I have had to not only bring strong ways to recruit passionate candidates to become teachers, but also encourage others who never consider teaching in the first place. One of the ways we do this is by early exposure to the field of education. There is some higher education [institutions] that [are] formulating a strong partnership with our local school district to develop a pipeline to attract and support students in their home district to be future teachers,” she said. “We engage students in interactive seminars that focus on what it takes to be a teacher and learn the ins and outs of instructional strategies to basically get them feeling enthusiastic about a career in teaching.”

She detailed steps that have been taken, both on a small scale and larger scale to address the issue.

“I recommend beginning at a small scale and educating elementary and middle school students by hosting career day presentations and utilising high achievement students as tutors, so as to ignite their interest in helping others learn early on.

“Other strategies include sponsoring middle and high school clubs and chapters that engage students in tutoring assistance in shadowing highly effective teachers, and participating in service projects in schools. Furthermore, it is important to integrate education introductory coursework as early as the elementary level — this and job shadowing opportunities alongside highly effective teacher mentors help cultivate prospective teacher talent earlier on,” the senior educator added.

Dr Molina said, too, that there are several things that can be done to provide opportunities for authentic engagement in the teaching profession.

“Some first steps include developing an emerging base learning experience with a local higher education preparation programme. Arranging for dual enrolment with the local college and offering courses at the high school level that focuses on pedagogy and provides internship experiences. The 'grow your own' module also places a strong emphasis on growing culturally responsive teachers. They are rooted in the community and focus on keeping your community members from leaving, while you grow them into educators. More than that, grow your own programmes focus on social justice education designed to prepare future teachers to better educate and empower underserved youth,” argued Dr Molina.

In relation to teacher retention, the college dean of education pathway said research has shown that “coaching and mentoring during the first few years in their profession leads to stronger and more successful years in the classroom”.

In the meantime, outgoing JTA President Dr Garth Andersen called on the nation's teachers to unite in order to tackle the numerous struggles colleagues experience daily.

He said the struggles are many.

“Poor remuneration, indiscipline, stress, lack of adequate resources, lack of respect for our professional opinions, lack of parenting support, and the list goes on and on. But, in order for us to claim victory on behalf of our members — the teachers — the teaching profession and the education system, we must remain a united force,” he said.

Dr Anderson added that building the JTA is in the best interest of teaching professionals.

The three-day conference, which began yesterday, is being held under the theme: 'Empowering Educators: Retooling, Innovating, Networking for Sustainable development.


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