My initial thought on the topic of Challenges in Staffing was to reflect on my personal experiences with teachers in my own educational career and consider how fortunate I was to grow-up in an area where I had the benefit of excellent instruction. If it is true that education is the great equalizer, then it is frightening to think that students who go to school in areas that cannot find or keep qualified teachers are essentially robbed of an opportunity for success almost from the start. This often occurs at the two extremes, in either rural or high-risk urban settings, and is often centered around localities of low-income and/or ethnic populations. Thus, the problem of staffing in these areas denies quality educational opportunities to these students at the local level, effectively precluding them from success at the state and national level, and further perpetuating a cycle of economic and class segregation.
I was also struck by the need for leadership in this area. Many times, leadership is motivating people to do what is right, even if it is not what is comfortable or desired. In staffing issues, this takes the form of making the tough decisions about which teachers and which funds go where. We have all driven through neighborhoods and said, “There is no way I would want to teach there.” However, assuming that we all got into education to help children, the irony of that statement is that the children in those areas are precisely the ones who need the most help. Therefore, it becomes the role of educational leadership to find ways to entice and, when necessary, push people to help in those areas.
As with any area, the more technical and focused the topic, the more challenging it is to find someone to do it. The narrowing of our focus, then, came through our discussions over Wimba and settled on staffing needs in the area of mathematics. While teacher recruitment and retention is an issue in all subject areas, due to the technical nature of the training programs at the college level and the more financially rewarding opportunities for those who truly excel in the field, the number of people certified to teach mathematics is limited. Using the business concept of supply and demand, then, it is no surprise that highly-qualified math teachers almost have their choice of localities and situations in which to work. If we couple this with the fact that the majority of the college graduates who would hold a math degree are still of the upper-middle class and want to return to teach in areas similar to those in which they were raised, education is left with a situation in which the best math teachers, on the average, will have their choice of where to teach. Unfortunately for many children, this will typically not be in a one-stop light town in rural Virginia or in the gang-riddled neighborhood of Cabreney Green in inner-city Chicago.
However, of all of the disciplines, mathematics runs only a close second to reading and writing as the most essential skill a child can know. It is the foundation of a multitude of life skills as well as a foundational requirement for countless careers. Thus, if we are to continue to be able to say that education is the great equalizer, it is incumbent upon educational leadership to work to create an equal and level playing field for all students in all areas by attempting to solve the dilemma of how to more effectively recruit and retain highly-qualified math teachers. As our group discussed, this may include such actions as revisiting traditional certification requirements for high-need areas, offering incentives for high-need areas, and identifying teachers who are exceptional at teaching math and training them within the organization.