Professors Aim to Solve Teacher Shortage One Student at a Time

Two Kent State University professors believe the best way to get more teachers in the classroom is to keep more education majors in college. 

They recently received a $200,000 grant that will be used to do just that: help students stay in school. 

“The grant money is almost all for scholarships and programming,” said Alicia R. Crowe, Ph.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Services and professor of Social Studies and Teacher Education in the College of Education, Health and Human Services (EHHS). 

Alicia R. Crowe, Ph.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Services and professor of Social Studies and Teacher Education in the College of Education, Health, and Human Services (EHHS).

“For the first two years, we want to support programming and students to ensure that they get a really solid start and stay in school to actually become teachers,” she said. 

Crowe said often students start out as education majors but switch to other areas, particularly with the current national job climate for primary and secondary teachers.  

The nationwide teacher shortage worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic when many longtime educators opted for retirement and others chose to leave the field due to stressful working conditions. 

In a national study, posted in August at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University’s EdWorkingPapers site, researchers looked at all available data on teacher shortages in districts across the country and determined that there are “at least 36,000 vacant positions along with at least 163,000 positions being held by underqualified teachers, both of which are conservative estimates of the extent of teacher shortages nationally.” 

Politics, Perceptions and a Really Big Hug

Teachers also are facing other issues including political debates over curriculum and a lack of respect for their work. 

“There is an overwhelming narrative of stress and tension and that everything is falling apart,” Crowe said. 

High school students seeing the stressful working conditions of their teachers are thinking twice about an education major, she noted. 

Elizabeth “Lisa” Testa, Ph.D., associate professor of Teaching Learning & Curriculum Studies in the College of Education, Health and Human Services.
Crowe and Elizabeth “Lisa” Testa, Ph.D., associate professor of Teaching Learning & Curriculum Studies, also in EHHS, are working to reverse that trend on two fronts. 

First, they want to offer the strongest support possible to their students so that they remain in their major and graduate. Their grant money will be used for these efforts, which they call “the really big hug.” 

“For the retention piece, we want to surround these students with support and positive experiences, really good, structured experiences from the beginning,” Crowe said. 

Retention rates in the college are between 80 and 85%, Crowe said. 

In addition to scholarships of up to $4,000 per year, students get support and programming to acclimate them to university life and their major, so they get on track and stay on track to graduation. 

One such program, Testa said, is offering peer mentors for incoming students, to help show new students how they can be successful. 


Mentors Matter

Christina Manos is one of those students who has benefited from having a mentor. The freshman from Fairview Park, Ohio, said she has always dreamed of a career in education, specifically teaching math. 

“I love the idea of being a teacher, being in the classroom and being in that type of environment,” she said. 

Her first semester has been going smoothly, but Manos said the mentoring she received through the college helped her to organize her classes and coursework. Her mentor is a junior, who also is studying to be a math teacher, and has taken the same classes that Manos will. 

“I met with him a few times and talked a lot about how to schedule my classes and how to keep track of my schoolwork,” Manos said. “I was explaining to him how I have trouble keeping track of my assignments and the due dates, I see it all in Canvas (Kent State’s online program for student coursework), but I was still struggling.” 

Manos ended up purchasing a planner, where she writes out the day each assignment is due and then works backward to determine a date when she will complete the assignment. 

“I start on Sunday, and I schedule my whole week out, so I know ‘This is when I am going to get it done,’” she said. 

Manos, who is paying for her own education, also received a scholarship through EHHS. “The money definitely helps me,” she said. 

Success Requires Being Strategic

The second half of their effort, Crowe said, is recruitment, including recruiting underrepresented students, whose retention rates can be even lower.   

“If you don’t see teachers reflecting who you are, you may not want to become a teacher,” Crowe said. 

For the recruitment efforts, Testa said, they are working to expand five existing partnerships with Nordonia Hills, Akron North and Cleveland John Hay high schools, as well as the Columbiana County Rising Scholars program and the Upward Bound program at Akron Buchtel High School. 

The effort, Testa said, must be specific to individual high schools. For example, Akron’s North Hill is home to many immigrant families, she explained. North High School’s population is multicultural, with students from Africa, Central America and Asia, including many refugees.  

“We need to tailor a campus experience for them,” Testa said. “It’s not just about addressing teacher shortages. We know that high school students need to see themselves on the campus, and that, sometimes, is hard in a predominantly white institution.” 

“We need to tailor opportunities in a more clear and robust way to convince them that this is a great place, that this is where it all starts. We prepare people well to be successful teachers and this is a place where you will be supported,” Testa said. 

Crowe and Testa intend to apply for additional, larger federal grants and are hopeful they will be able to continue the efforts they have started. 

COVID-19 resulted in a huge culture shift that affected all professions, not just teaching, and all professions are competing for a smaller pool of high school graduates for their fields, Testa said. 

Yet she and Crowe remain hopeful about the future of the teaching profession. 

“Becoming a teacher, is still, some of the most meaningful work you can do,” Testa said. 

POSTED: Wednesday, October 26, 2022 03:59 PM
Updated: Friday, January 27, 2023 04:00 PM
Lisa Abraham