Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis

Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis

The most important school factor in a child’s academic success is having access to high-quality, effective teachers. While we have continually sought to improve the quality of instruction provided to students, particularly those who have been historically underserved, we are now facing teacher shortages in Kentucky and across the nation like we never have before.

The factors influencing the shortages are numerous and not the topic of this column, but suffice it to say that the teacher shortages in some regions of the state and in some high demand content areas threaten the core business of teaching and learning in Kentucky schools. The shortages are particularly challenging in such critical areas as special education, career and technical, science and mathematics.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) must play a leadership role in addressing our teacher workforce challenges.

As we develop and implement strategies for recruiting more Kentuckians into traditional teacher preparation programs in Kentucky’s colleges of teacher education, we also must work to recruit experienced professionals into classrooms as teachers through our alternative routes to teacher licensure. Every year, talented professionals whose college major and first career was not education enter the teaching profession and Kentucky classrooms. In many cases, these teachers are placed in some of our hard-to-staff schools and teaching areas. We would benefit from having many more of them.

To that end, it is important that we do a better job of sharing information with prospective non-traditionally trained teachers about the many alternative routes to the teaching profession available in Kentucky. There are currently eight options or alternative routes to teaching that permit individuals to pursue teacher certification in Kentucky:

  • Exceptional Work Experience (for teachers grades prekindergarten through 12): Candidates with exceptional work experience in an academic content area who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 grade point average (GPA) may be eligible for this pathway.
  • College Faculty (for teachers grades 8-12): Candidates who have a minimum of a master’s degree in an academic content area and have at least five years of full-time teaching experience in the content area at the college level may apply for 8-12 certification for the specific content under this route.
  • Local District Training Program (P-12): There are no current local district training programs approved by the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) at this time. 
  • Adjunct Instructor (P-12): The Adjunct Instructor Certification does not lead to professional certification in Kentucky. However, it does allow those who have expertise and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a major or minor in an academic content area and meet other qualifications to teach part-time on a contract basis.
  • Veterans of the Armed Forces: A pathway to certification for veterans with at least six years of eligible military service and an honorable discharge who have a GPA of at least 2.75 and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in an academic content area or meet PRAXIS requirements.
  • University-Based Alternative Route (P-12): This option is for individuals who hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a nonteaching major interested in attaining initial teacher certification, meet university admission requirements and have a GPA of at least 2.75.
  • Institute Alternative Route: There are no current institute alternative routes approved by the EPSB at this time. 
  • Teach for America: A national nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supports outstanding recent college graduates for career placement in participating school districts within the Appalachian Region of Kentucky.

At KDE, we have a number of programs and initiatives intended to assist with the recruitment of talented people into the teaching profession. One of our newest initiatives is the Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching (KAET), a program designed to identify, support and prepare a talented and diverse teacher candidate pool. In partnership with educator preparation programs at Kentucky’s public and private colleges and universities, KAET experiences will assist in preparing candidates for the diverse Kentucky schools and communities where they will serve.

Through the program, KAET participants receive financial support through a forgivable loan, and complete an Education Professional Standards Board-approved teacher education program in conjunction with ongoing mentorship by experienced Kentucky educators. The program is funded by a $1 million per year allocation in the 2018 Kentucky state budget for educator quality and diversity through the teacher recruitment and retention program. I am thankful to the Kentucky General Assembly and the governor for their continued investment in this work.

While KAET is aimed at helping students overcome financial barriers that may keep them from the teaching profession, at KDE we’re also working to recruit even younger people into teaching, beginning at the high school level. The Teaching and Learning pathway – which began during the 2017-2018 school year – is designed to allow more schools to offer an education pathway, appeal to more students and allow students to get classroom experience sooner.

The pathway includes four courses. All students in the pathway take the first three courses, which focus on the general theory and practice of learning and teaching, the basic principles of educational psychology, the art of teaching, planning and administration, school safety and health issues, and the social foundations of education. For the fourth course, students can choose from Collaborative Clinical Experience, Principles of Career and Technical Education or an AP or dual credit course in their intended discipline.

During the 2018-2019 school year, there were 35 schools offering the Teaching and Learning Pathway, with 1,150 students enrolled. I had the opportunity to spend time with many of these students recently in Bowling Green at the state Educators Rising conference at Western Kentucky University. These are incredibly talented and passionate young people, and I am confident that among them are future Kentucky teachers who may not have selected teaching if they hadn’t had the opportunity to explore teaching as a career possibility through this pathway.

Addressing our current critical teacher shortages will require that we fundamentally reconsider recruitment and retention in the teaching profession, including asking tough questions about the profession and its attractiveness to younger generations of professionals. What will take even more courage is using what we learn to make adjustments as needed to teacher recruitment, training, career ladders and benefits packages. We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect to recruit and retain passionate, talented and effective instructional experts for each and every Kentucky student.