School districts in Alabama and most other states are struggling to fill teaching positions as retiring baby boomers phase out of the profession with fewer graduates to replace them.
The issue has convinced some school districts to recruit educators from the Philippines and elsewhere to staff schools, while others have created unique ways to help professionals transition into the classroom.
In Alabama, some of the state’s rural school districts are turning to the military for help, using a Department of Defense program called “Troops to Teachers” to encourage veterans to help fill the void, the Associated Press reports.
Greene County schools superintendent James Carter told the Montgomery Advertiser about 15 percent of the district’s teaching positions are currently vacant, and he’s hoping “Troops to Teachers” and another similar program will help change the dynamic.
“In order to replace teachers that are retiring and those that are choosing not to go into the field, it’s almost becoming a crisis to find good qualified teachers in Alabama, especially where we are,” Carter said of his rural district. “There’s not a lot of people that want to come and live in areas that are isolated from the urban centers.”
The U.S. Department of Defense launched the Troops to Teachers program in 1993 to help service members transition into civilian life, and it’s since successfully placed about 20,000 veterans into classrooms nationwide.
In Alabama, the program was previously run through the Department of Education, but officials have more recently partnered with Stillman College to target efforts to staff schools in Greene and Hale counties.
The college secured a $400,000 grant last fall to boost the program, which covers the costs of education courses and licensing fees for veterans, as well as an incentive bonus for those who sign three-year contracts in hard-to-staff schools. In total, military veterans can secure up to $10,000 to transition to teaching, the Advertiser reports.
“Geared with an alternative certification, which first requires a bachelor’s degree and passing the PRAXIS exam, participants in the program can start teaching immediately while completing education courses within the three-year process to gain full certification – a win-win for the troops and the schools,” according to the news site.
“I think it will be a game-changer for … these schools,” said Derwin Dubose, Stillman’s executive director of military and veterans programs.
Dubose contends the school environment benefits from veterans, while veterans benefit with a streamlined transition into a new profession.
“For folks transitioning out of the military, it can be a jarring transition, so teaching provides an opportunity to have a full schedule,” Dubose said. “If a service member started at 18, he can retire at 38 and by 58 have two retirements, one from the federal government and one from the state.”
There’s also efforts underway in the state legislature to certify former Community College of the Air Force instructors to teach in K-12 schools, the Advertiser reports.
Jason Smith, director of credentialing at the college, told the news site that since Florida passed a law in 2006 allowing instructors with a year of teaching experience and a bachelor’s degree to teach in K-12 schools, more than 300 instructors have sought verification.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to help improve the system here in Alabama – to bring more people here and to advance our children and to make that investment into our children, into our community,” he said. “This can be qualified individuals with a background in postsecondary education and a discipline and different perspective” than typical K-12 teachers.
Alabama’s legislative leaders and Air Force officials are expected to meet with the governor this month to discuss details of that program. Similar legislative efforts are underway in Texas, Oklahoma and Idaho, as well, according to the news site.