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Universities helping fill teacher shortage

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (08/04/2003)
By Patrick Mcgee

Anthony Edwards decided to leave his career as a corporate recruiter and go to school to become a teacher.

Texas needs more people like Edwards. About 45,000 more.

Like most states, Texas has a teacher shortage, and universities have revamped their programs to make it easier to get the certification required for stepping into a classroom.

With 295,000 teachers, including substitutes, Texas has enough teachers for every classroom. But when it comes to teachers who are certified in the subjects they’re teaching, the state is 45,000 short. Areas in need are foreign languages, math and science. Teachers must pass a general certification test of instructional knowledge and skills, and a test for the subject they will teach.

That’s why there’s a demand for people such as Edwards, 27, of Fort Worth, who is working toward his teacher certification at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“ I was trying to make a million dollars as a business guy, and just finally found that money isn’t everything, and I really enjoy kids and wanted to teach,” said Edwards, who started working toward his certification last summer. “I just woke up one day and talked to my wife ... and she talked me into giving it a try.”

Edwards, who wants to teach high-school history, takes classes part time while working full time as a physical education teacher at Aledo Middle School. He’s only required to take classes needed to work as a teacher because he has a bachelor’s degree. He said he hopes to finish his course work this fall -- and then pay $72 to take the teacher certification test.

Edwards said that if he had stayed in corporate recruiting, he would be making four times as much as a teacher by now.

School districts in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Pasadena have their own teacher certification programs, but it’s really the universities that produce the state’s teachers. And they are coming up with more ways to make their course work convenient:

•  Texas Christian University in Fort Worth has increased its school of education enrollment by 35 percent and is offering more graduate degrees in the areas Texas needs most: special education, English as a second language, math and science.

•  The University of Texas at Austin has an undergraduate teacher training program that was partially designed and is taught by former teachers.

•  UT-Arlington is offering education classes on nights and on weekends, during an 11-week summer semester and online. The university expects to offer an entire certification program online within a year and a half.

•  The Texas A&M University System drafted a strategic plan to send more of its graduates into teaching and saw a 20 percent increase in teacher candidates from 1999 to 2002.

“ One positive factor that has come out of this whole teacher shortage issue is it has caused colleges and universities to become more proactive in attracting personnel into the teaching profession,” said Rudy Rodriguez, director of the bilingual education program for the University of North Texas in Denton.

UNT’s school of education recruits in area high schools and offers scholarships to people interested in pursuing certification as a bilingual teacher through the federal Education Department, Rodriguez said.

Last year was the first time that the State Board for Educator Certification allowed community colleges and private entities to train people for teacher certification. Weatherford Community College had six graduates who were certified as teachers. Education Career Alternatives Program, a private Fort Worth company, had 350.

But Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, founded in 1899 solely to train teachers, has done the most to address the state’s teacher shortage.

Last year, the university graduated 889 people who became certified teachers.

Southwest Texas State education Dean John Beck said colleges of education such as his can increase enrollment and make the course work more accessible by offering evening and summer classes. But better salaries are what is really needed to make more people want to become teachers, he said.

“ It’s difficult to convince them; I want you to work hard for four years, get your certification and then go to work for $30,000 a year,” Beck said.

The state’s average teacher salary ranked 32nd in the nation last year, according to the Texas State Teacher’s Association. The average teacher salary was $39,232, up $6,194 from five years ago, according to the association. The average teacher salary for the past school year in the Fort Worth district was $43,654. In Arlington, it was $41,600; and in Hurst-Euless-Bedford it was $42,447, according to the association.

Ed Fuller, co-director of research for the State Board for Educator Certification, said poor or stressful working conditions can make teaching unattractive. About 600,000 people in Texas hold teacher certifications, but less than half work as teachers, according to the 2002 Texas Strategic Plan to Address the Teacher Shortage, a study that the Legislature ordered the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct.

Fuller also said that Texas has a teacher shortage because its student population has grown so rapidly; the 2000 Census found that 5.8 million people under 18 reside in Texas. That’s more than 1 million children than the state had in 1990.

Melinda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, said nearly every state is experiencing a teacher shortage.

“ Many schools have not been able to retain the teachers they do hire after three years; 20 percent of new teachers leave the field. That number jumps to 50 percent for those in the field five years,” Anderson said. “The attrition rate for new teachers has always been, and continues to be, extremely high -- and interest in teaching may dwindle when the economy rebounds.”