Rural schools adopt new licensing rules to tackle teacher shortage


  • Changes to teacher certification rules help rural schools with critical needs fill roles.
  • Prospective teachers can fail the Praxis exam and continue teaching if they meet the GPA bar for field courses.
  • “An exam shouldn’t be the deciding factor in someone’s career,” said BOE’s Tonya Chestnut.

As the first week of school in the Black Belt ended on Friday, educators across the region felt a feeling they know all too well: exhaustion.

Alabama hasn’t had enough teachers in the state for years — even before the pandemic — and the enduring shortage is putting pressure on teachers who are here not just to stay in their jobs, but to take the job. relay.

“Every child, regardless of zip code, regardless of socioeconomic background, deserves to have an effective teacher,” said Alabama school board member Tonya Chestnut. “It’s hard to recruit people to come and stay. They will come. They will gain experience. And so, unfortunately, we end up in Black Belt training and preparing teachers to go somewhere else, apparently.

Chestnut represents District 5, which includes many black belt and rural counties. She joined Dallas County Schools Transformation Specialist Tanya Miles, Perry County Superintendent Marcia Smiley, and Lydia Chatmon, Director of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, for a virtual panel on the transformation of education in the black belt.

Reducing teacher turnover, panelists agreed, was one of their main goals.

Highest teacher turnover observed in rural schools

While school systems like Mountain Brook and Scottsboro have first-time teacher retention rates above 70% — meaning more than 70% of their new teachers stay in the district for at least three years — the rates black belt retention rates fall well below 50%.

According to a 2022 report by the Alabama Service Evaluation Commission, Dallas County’s retention rate is 29%, Perry’s is 16%, and Selma City’s is 17%.

Seven of the 10 districts with the highest turnover rate in the state were in rural school systems.

“Teacher turnover is really impacting our young people,” Chatmon said.

Growing up in Selma, Lydia Chatmon of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Selma remembers all of her teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade.  They were the foundation of the school community.  This has changed.

Growing up in Selma, she remembers all of her teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade. They were building blocks of the school and they were the foundation of the school community. This has changed.

School districts outside of major metropolitan areas struggle to attract teachers to their schools, and when they do, those teachers are often unwilling to stick around long enough to truly be part of the community.

At the start of the 2021 school year, there were more vacancies at Perry County schools than Smiley had seen in her 28-year career, she said. At the start of this school year, however, she said schools were on better footing.

Miles echoed those concerns in Dallas County.

“Relationships are important. You can’t teach me until you understand me,” she said. “We can have people in the class who are ready to understand our children, to know their story.

Prior to his current position with Dallas County Schools, Miles taught for 14 years at Bruce Craig Elementary School. His daughter followed in his footsteps and is now a teacher there. During the first week of school, Miles visited her daughter’s class and found several children whose parents she had taught all those years ago.

“These are the children of the children I taught,” Miles said. “They know that I know their history. I know the stories of their parents. As educators, we need to put ourselves in a position where we can learn our children’s stories because they don’t care what we know until they know how much we care. we.

Attract teachers who will stay

Before rural school systems can build this generational value for teaching, however, they must attract new teachers who want to establish a life for themselves in a place like Perry County. From Marion, the county seat, the nearest Walmart is 20 miles away and the nearest mall is 50 miles away, Smiley said.

Rural settings can deter new teachers.

“It depends on where they’re from. We have new hires who have said Perry County is very similar to the town they’re from — the tight-knit little community — and they like it,” said Smiley “People like that are more likely to stay than someone from a major metropolitan area.”

Factors such as teacher salaries and teacher qualifications can also act as barriers to hiring quality, long-term teachers in Black Belt schools.

Recent changes in teacher certification

Over the years, many policy initiatives have been put in place to address these barriers. The most recent change allows prospective teachers who fail the Praxis exam with a standard measurement error of about 5 points to receive their teaching licenses as long as their teaching area GPA is above 2.75.

The leniency is up to two standard errors of measurement for districts with extraordinary critical needs.

The change has faced criticism that it “brings down the standards” for Alabama teachers, but panelists said it was a misconception. Chestnut, who served as the voice of the black belt when the state Board of Education made the decision earlier this month, said the change in requirements expands the pool of teachers that districts in need can hire.

Tonya Chestnut of the Alabama State Board of Education, featured here on May 13, 2021, recently spoke about the difficulty rural schools have in attracting teachers for more than a year or two.

“An exam shouldn’t be the determining factor in a person’s career whether they pass or fail and whether they fail or not,” Chestnut said during the panel last week. “To give the implications that all requirements in Alabama have been removed, that’s definitely not the case. We’re just grateful that it opened the door for some people who have been waiting, who are committed and who want to teach, but who simply did not pass the exam.

Many substitute teachers in the state have had no formal training as a teacher, and Chatmon said he has seen instances of substitute teachers being in place for the majority of a school year due to “inability to recruit and retain teachers.

“Our kids are missing that point because you have great teachers who miss their test by a point or two,” Miles said. “We just have to do what’s best for the black belt.”

Hadley Hitson covers the rural South for the Montgomery Advertiser and Report for America. She can be contacted at [email protected] To support his work, subscribe to the announcer or donate to Report for America.

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