Looming NY Teacher Shortage Showcases Urgent Need to Recruit New Ones: Union

What to Know

  • New teachers are urgently needed in New York state amid a looming shortage, according to the NYSUT union
  • With a generation of baby boomer teachers retiring, and a struggle to attract news, there's a "perfect storm" brewing, NYSUT says
  • The union is calling for a better system to support beginning teachers and retain them

A rapid drop-off of teachers and a struggle to attract new ones could soon create a "perfect storm" of a teacher shortage in New York state, according to a new report published by the teachers' union. 

More than a third of the state's nearly 270,000 active Teachers' Retirement System members could be eligible to retire within the next five years, according to NYSUT. Meanwhile, the number of people enrolling in teacher education programs has dropped off dramatically in five years -- by about half, from 79,000 students in 2009-10 to 40,000 in 2014-15.

Student enrollment in New York state is expanding all the while: by 2024, it will have grown by 2 percent, the federal government projects. 

"When you look at all these numbers together, it's really the perfect storm for an upcoming teacher shortage crisis," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. "We need to raise awareness on the issue - and work with higher ed and others to attract more students and adults to the profession."

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the teacher shortages are hitting urban and rural districts the hardest, according to the report. In big city districts, newly hired teachers often decamp for the suburbs, where the pay is higher, or just leave the profession altogether, frustrated with difficult working conditions and lack of support.

Math and foreign language teachers are becoming especially hard to find, including in Yonkers.

"Foreign languages, it's almost impossible to find certified teachers -- math and science, still continues to be very difficult," said Yonkers School Superintendent Edwin Quedaza. 

Rural districts in New York also struggle with recruiting and retraining staff, according to NYSUT. Traditionally, local SUNY colleges provided a steady pipeline of new teachers, but that's no longer the case. At SUNY Potsdam, for example, the number of education majors dropped sharply from over 700 in 2010 to just about 200 in the fall of 2016. 

"They're making it harder for everyone, and it's very expensive to go to school," said teacher Laura Mendoza. 

Teacher unions and advocacy groups are calling for better support systems for beginning teachers, though they applauded the retooled Regents certification system, which eliminated one of the four certification exams. 

"We need to do everything we can to demonstrate what an incredibly rewarding profession teaching is and that those who make it their life's work will never regret it," said DiBrango.

Lori Bordonaro contributed to this report. 

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