TEACHERS ATTEMPT TO EDUCATE STATE ABOUT SHORTFALL
Salaries, college debt, number of possible retirees are problems administrators face.
FORT COLLINS» Colorado can do a lot of things, big and small, to end a massive K-12 teacher shortage, including respecting and helping people working in the state’s classrooms, officials learned at a town hall meeting Friday.
About 50 local teachers, administrators, school board members and residents echoed that notion during a meeting Friday on the Colorado State University campus, organized by state education officials to gather ideas that districts can use to tackle the shortfall of teachers.
Certainly, salaries are a problem. First-year teachers in some rural districts earn about $25,000 a year.
“When you are making that much, and facing college debt anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000, you are going to think twice about going into teaching,” said Robert Mitchell, director of educator preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Another factor that contributes to the shortage is the perception that teachers are not professionals, at least on the same level as doctors or lawyers, said Rob Eberle, an 18-year classroom veteran with the Thompson School District in Loveland.
“Outside of this room, we are not seen as professionals,” said Eberle, who called on state education officials to hammer home the message that teachers are not just employees.
“It’s important that teachers are heard and that we have a place at the table,” Eberle said. “We need a consistent voice saying to everyone that we are professionals. Unfortunately, there is a segment of the population that spends a great deal of time bashing public education.”
“They don’t bash doctors or lawyers, but we are being targeted,” Eberle said.
As many as 3,000 more teachers are needed to lead classrooms across the state, with rural districts being hit especially hard, Mitchell said.
Not only are college graduates shying away from teaching, but nearly 30 percent of the state’s teachers are retirement age, data show.
“One school district in the northeast corner of the state had zero applicants for an elementary teacher position,” Mitchell said. “What we have been doing in the past (to recruit and retain teachers) is not sustainable.”
Mitchell’s agency is teaming up with the Colorado Department of Education to host a series of town hall sessions throughout the state. The groups plan to create a program to stem the flight of teachers
from the classroom and to get more young people interested in teaching.
A town hall is scheduled Monday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Cherry Creek School District, 5416 S. Riviera Way in Centennial. A day later in Denver, a town hall is slated at from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Mile High United Way CoBank Leadership Center, 711 Park Ave. W.
Other town halls are scheduled for Limon, Otis, Colorado Springs and Las Animas in August.
The groups are scheduled to finish their action plan by Dec. 1 and present it to state lawmakers next year.
Topics discussed Friday included a statewide, uniform salary schedule, better mentoring for new teachers, and a research-based curriculum that all teachers can rely on.
Colorado is leaking teachers to other states that offer better salaries and benefits, participants at Friday’s town hall meeting said. One educator said teachers in northern Colorado are moving across the state line to Wyoming to automatically get a pay raise of at least $10,000 a year.
Others said teachers need more support from administrators, some of whom have not been in the classroom for years. “If you’re in the building, you have to teach at least 20 percent of the time,” Eberle recommended. “If you have been out of the system for so long, you lose sight of what’s really going on in the classroom.”