Faced with an overall teacher shortage, middle and high schools now are permitted to hire teachers in all subjects who lack specific certification, not just traditionally hard-to-fill jobs like math and science.
The state Department of Education relaxed the requirements this year because superintendents across the state reported having difficulty hiring teachers across all subject areas in middle and high schools, including English, theater and social studies.
Stephen Appleby, who oversees teacher licensing as the director of the Division of Educator Support and Higher Education, said that every fall the department develops a “critical shortage list” from surveys of district superintendents.
A new list coming out next month for the 2020-21 school year will contain fewer certification areas in short supply for the 2020-21 school year, Appleby said.
About 60% of New Hampshire’s teachers go through traditional certification programs, Appleby said, after getting teaching degrees here or in another state.
The other 40% use a certification alternative, like the “on-the-job” training option for people who, for example, have math degrees and want to be math teachers.
Would-be teachers in subjects on the shortage list still must have college degrees, but they are not required to have a degree in the subject they teach.
In critical shortage subject areas, a teacher can be hired with just two college courses in the subject, or after passing a standardized test on the subject. After the teacher is hired, district officials must work on a professional development plan that will lead to the teacher’s eventual certification.
Appleby said that each year a few more certification areas have been added to the list. He was unsure of the reason for the shortage of middle school and high school teachers.
He guessed it is getting harder for schools to fill teaching jobs because of the state’s overall low unemployment rate. Local factors could be driving the shortages, he said.
“It’s a local employment issue. It’s a local control state.”
Why a shortage?
Dianna Terrell, a professor of education at Saint Anselm College, said she has never seen New Hampshire’s critical shortage list include so many certification areas.
Terrell said the long list was worrying because teachers without certifications tend to be less prepared for the classroom — they may have some subject matter knowledge but not the other skills teachers need.
When teachers get a certification, they are not only learning the subject they will teach. Through the process, they learn how to develop a curriculum, measure students’ progress and watch for signs a child is having trouble at home.
It also increases the likelihood they will not wash out of a demanding job.
“There has been a lot of research on this in the last 10 years,” she said. “Learning how to teach improves teaching and improves student learning.”
Math and science teachers have long been in short supply, Terrell said, because of the options available to math and science graduates.
“Middle school math and science, high school math and science — people with math degrees want to go into something more lucrative,” she said.
Special education teachers and some modern-language teachers also are in short supply.
Doug Ley, an education professor at Franklin Pierce University, said he has seen fewer students pursue education certifications.
Ley, a state representative and president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, attributes that to students being pushed toward other careers and teachers’ pay not being competitive with other fields that require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
New Hampshire, like many other states, also sees a high number of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years on the job, Ley said. He guessed the reason is a combination of high stress and low pay.
Teachers who do not come through the traditional certification process, Ley said, might be more likely to leave because they might not be prepared for the job.
“It is not easy simply to walk into a classroom and assume you know how to teach,” he said.
Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association-New Hampshire, said she was skeptical of the current list.
“I don’t believe we have a teacher shortage in every area except elementary education,” she said. “When I talk to educators around the state, they feel the same way.”
Tuttle said she thinks the shortage of teachers is a symptom of a shortage of funding for schools. Like Ley and Terrell, she said college students who might have been drawn to teaching are choosing better-paying fields.
Signs of improvement
Appleby said the critical shortage list will be shorter next year — and he said there was no longer a critical shortage of English and social studies teachers. The biggest improvement was in the number of administrators, such as assistant superintendent and assistant principals. Schools have also been able to hire for career and technical educators
There are a few reasons for the changes to next year’s shortage list, Appleby said. The department waited until October to collect data from superintendents about job openings, instead of collecting the information just after the start of school. Schools had filled more jobs by October, Appleby said.