North Colonie Teachers Association member Jessica Coles was on track to become a police detective when a college internship in a prison made her do an about-face. “I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “Before they got to prison.”
Friends advised Niskayuna Teachers Association’s Tracey Newell not to become a teacher at all, suggesting she go to law school instead. They said, “There’s no money in teaching” and, unfortunately, she listened. “I became a corporate attorney but I was miserable,” Newell said.
“Teaching is not just a job. There’s no way to describe all the rewards.” “Really it’s nothing less than being a real-life superhero,” said South Glens Falls physical education teacher Jason Spector, whose mission is to make students feel important, accepted and safe. “It’s the reason I wake up every day.” The three were part of a June Capital Region teacher recruitment event at Shenendehowa High School East that drew hundreds of students, parents and a number of people thinking about changing careers.
Administrators said they planned the event because they are already experiencing shortages in highneed areas like special education, math, science and English as a New Language.
When her district recently had a mid-year school librarian opening, only two people applied, said Shenendehowa Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Wood.
There were also few candidates for recent openings for a school psychologist and computer science teacher. Even in popular areas, like secondary English, Wood said she now receives only about 40 applications instead of 200.
NYSUT has been out front sounding the alarm on the looming teacher shortage. NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said the shortage is the result of “a perfect storm” of contributing factors. As baby boomer teachers retire and more leave the profession for a mix of reasons, enrollments in teacher education programs in New York have plummeted 49 percent.
DiBrango said the union is looking at ways to expand connections between K–12 and higher education teacher prep programs.
She is hoping to pilot “campus conversations” where teachers and faculty talk about careers in education. Wherever she speaks, DiBrango notes that the best ambassadors for the profession are teachers themselves.
That sentiment was certainly on display at the Capital Region event. After the panel discussion, teachers hosted more than a dozen breakout sessions divided by subject areas, remaining in classrooms long after the scheduled ending time. College booth staffers also ran into overtime.
There was a long line into a session with two certification experts from local BOCES who talked about different certification pathways and encouraged participants to consider substitute teaching and teaching assistant positions. “Both areas are in extremely high demand,” said Capital Region BOCES’ Ken Ziegler.
“It gets your foot in the door and lets you see what it’s like.”