Training Teachers, Sustaining Teachers

Teacher's Desk With Apples and Pencils

Holly King with fourthgraders at Pittsburgh Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park. Photo: Keith Boyer

State Grant Helps IUP Address National Shortage

When Indiana Normal School first opened its doors in May 1875, its primary mission was the training of new teachers, then in great demand around Pennsylvania. That first class included 150 aspiring teachers, roughly the same number who graduate from IUP now.

Again today, there is a serious shortage of new teachers. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the number of commonwealth-issued teacher certifications has dropped nearly 72 percent in recent years—from 18,957 in 2012-13 to 5,361 four years later.

The process of recruiting prospective teachers, educating and training them, and keeping them in the workforce has been described as a “leaky pipeline.” Current and potential educators are leaving all along the line, and the shortage of newly minted teachers has been evident in recent years at IUP, in Pennsylvania, and across America.

“Pennsylvania is traditionally a very large producer of teachers, and for many years we were exporting teachers, because of the shortages that existed elsewhere,” said Lara Luetkehans, dean of IUP’s College of Education and Communications. “Now we’re seeing those shortages hit Pennsylvania as well. IUP is graduating 150 to 200 teachers annually, and that’s about half what the number was six years ago.”

Enrollments of education majors stabilized at IUP about two years ago and are now on a slight upswing.

Recently, the university began addressing the teacher shortage with help from a grant of more than $740,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. IUP officials use words like “transformational” and “immersive” to describe how the university is using the grant to develop and implement a new strategy to attract, train, and retain more teachers.

“The concern about the leaky pipeline is that it’s leaky all the way through,” Luetkehans said, adding that a national dialogue on education as a profession in recent years has discouraged some people from becoming teachers.

Fueling that dialogue, she said, are concerns about regulations and accountability measures, such as No Child Left Behind, that some teachers believe restrict creativity and professional autonomy; debates over how well or how poorly teachers are paid, combined with a greater number of career options now available to women; and awareness of a lack of investment in some schools so severe that teachers buy their own school supplies.

“We’re hearing stories for the first time about families with a history of producing teachers who are discouraging their children from going into the field,” Luetkehans said.

More potential educators are lost as they are being trained.

“In the educator preparation program, there are many gates that have been put up to enhance the quality of the student,” she said, referring to strict academic requirements for prospective teachers. “Students may choose the major but then not make it past some of those benchmarks.”

Another serious leak in the pipeline is the high attrition rate among new teachers, often within a few years of entering the profession.

“Particularly in urban areas, school directors see a 50 percent drop-off” among newly hired teachers, Luetkehans said. “So they might hire 10 teachers in the hope of keeping five of them.”

The grant IUP received will fund innovations all along the pipeline.

“The primary goal is to revise and enhance the IUP curriculum so that teachers are trained using a residency model,” Luetkehans said. “This loosely follows a medical residency, in that the majority of their time would be spent in the school. They would still have courses, but those courses would be wrapped around that immersive experience.”

Lara Luetkehans, right, dean of the College of Education and Communications, with Sue Rieg, author of a grant application to address the teacher shortage.

Lara Luetkehans, right, dean of the College of Education and Communications, with Sue Rieg, author of a grant application to address the teacher shortage. Photo: Keith Boyer

Typically, IUP education majors have three field experiences in school districts during their sophomore, junior, and senior years. The professional-development sequence ends with about 15 weeks of student teaching in the second semester of their senior year.

Under a pilot program in use for a few years, IUP has combined the middle field experience with student teaching to create a yearlong field experience—an academic year, roughly from August to the following May—for education majors.

“That’s what we’re trying to scale up,” Luetkehans said. “When we package those two experiences and students get a full, yearlong experience, their development is so much stronger.”

IUP has been innovative, she said, in accepting the challenge of developing and implementing the yearlong residency while still keeping teacher preparation a four-year process. Other universities include a yearlong residency but as part of a five-year program.

“Trying to adapt our curriculum, meeting all the requirements of our accreditors and state regulations, and giving this immersive experience in four years is where the real challenge is,” she said.

The bulk of the grant money in the first year will give faculty members time to collaborate across disciplines and decide how the curriculum should be revised. The grant also removes financial barriers for some students in the pilot program.

Sue Corbin Rieg ’81, M’82, dean’s associate for educator preparation and author of the grant application, knows that many IUP students have to work to pay for their education. She believes it would be difficult to recruit students for a yearlong residency if they have to be in schools all day, attend their own classes, and keep a job to support themselves.

The grant will provide tuition and $1,900 per month in stipends to cover living expenses and transportation for some undergraduate students as they work on their residencies while living temporarily in a school district. Some graduate students will receive the same stipend for living expenses, and the partner school districts will pay their tuition and another small stipend for their work as graduate assistants.

According to Luetkehans and Rieg, the yearlong, immersive residency will give education majors more experience in classroom management.

“Classroom management is one of the biggest areas that teachers feel they are not prepared for,” said Rieg, who taught at the elementary level for 17 years before becoming a principal.

Keeping students on task, making smooth transitions from subject to subject, establishing rules and procedures, and getting kids to understand the teacher’s expectations are all part of classroom management, she said. For the teacher, it also involves learning about students’ individual needs.

“It’s the biggest challenge for all new teachers,” Luetkehans said, adding that classroom management begins with the rapport teachers develop with children from the first day of school.

Typically, education majors have begun their student teaching in January, months after the classroom teacher has already developed relationships and established expectations with students. Luetkehans said it’s better for student teachers to be in the classroom when the school year begins.

“We have classes that deal with classroom management, but when you have to do it with 25 or 30 children staring at you, it’s hard,” she said.

Rieg said many teachers who are parents of IUP education majors endorse the concept of a yearlong residency.

“When families come in with their students, and I tell them they have the option of a yearlong residency, the moms and dads and family members who are teachers say, ‘Wow. I wish I could have done that. I wish I would have been able to spend a full year in a school district.’ Our students who have already done it—100 percent of them when surveyed said this is the only way to become a teacher.”

“I think it definitely helps in the grand scheme of things,” said Holly King, an IUP education major from New Castle who was in the final phase of a yearlong residency at Pittsburgh Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park.

“I personally feel more prepared,” she said about starting her residency in August, in time to gain experience with parent-teacher conferences.

King worked seasonally at a day care center to help pay for her education, but the stipend from the state grant eliminated the stress of having to keep a part-time job during the residency. That way, she could stay focused on her teacher training.

King said she would recommend the yearlong residency to other education majors who have the option.

“My personal opinion is this is the way to prepare teachers and to keep them,” Rieg said. “If teachers aren’t prepared and they have a bad first year of teaching, they’re not going to stay in the field.”

Another goal for the grant money is to recruit more education majors into high-demand specialties, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), reading, and special education.

The college also aims to use the grant to recruit more diverse students into the teaching profession. While this is a challenge nationwide, “Pennsylvania is even more extreme in terms of needing diversity,” Luetkehans said.

“Nationally, about 82 percent of teachers are white, and in Pennsylvania, it’s 96 percent,” she said. Teachers are also predominantly women—well above 70 percent nationally and in the commonwealth. “Last year, the entire state of Pennsylvania prepared 10 male teachers of color,” she said.

IUP will work with its partner school districts to reach more diverse students, to offer dual enrollment courses, which allow high school students to earn college credits, and to explain the qualifications needed to be a teacher. It will then help students meet those qualifications.

Luetkehans said IUP will eventually reach out to students in elementary grades to introduce the idea of teaching as a career and to address the notions that the profession is only for women and that it’s poorly paid.

The grant money will also expand from one year to three years an induction program at partner school districts that helps new teachers understand their professional development needs and feel more connected with their schools.

“We know that it takes about 10,000 hours for a novice to become an expert,” Luetkehans said. “In teacher academic time, under a 10-month contract, that’s six or seven years. We don’t have six or seven years to help teachers feel competent in the field. So, having a more robust induction program and helping them in those first three years, when it can feel so challenging—we know that’s critical.”

With the Department of Education grant, IUP provided some level of support to 14 undergraduates and six graduate students in yearlong placements. In the future, those residencies will likely be a choice for more students in a wider range of education specialties.

“We couldn’t do any of this if our partners [intermediate units and school districts] were not key players,” Luetkehans said.

“IUP has always been a leader in the state in educator preparation, and we continue to be,” she said. “Even if we’re not the lead in numbers, I still think we’re the lead in thought and practice for teacher preparation.”

Young Student Taking Notes During Class

Diversity in Schools

The state grant IUP has received will help the university recruit more education majors and give them additional field experience to refine critical skills and help them be successful in their first years of employment with school districts.

Another important goal of the grant is to reduce racial and gender disparities between students and teachers and give more Pennsylvania students the benefits of a diverse teaching staff.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit education research organization:

  • In 2016–17, only 5.6 percent of Pennsylvania teachers were people of color. That same year, students of color made up 33 percent of the student body.
  • Fifty-five percent of Pennsylvania public schools had only Caucasian teachers on their staffs in 2016–17.
  • Women made up 73 percent of all Pennsylvania teachers; men of color composed slightly more than 1 percent.
  • Only 29 African American men graduated from Pennsylvania teacher preparation programs in 2014.
  • Teachers of color make up 6.4 percent of educators at the elementary level, compared to 5 percent at the secondary level.