Written by: Barry Waldman
What happens when you take an accelerating teacher shortage fed by educator defections and sagging enrollments in education programs, plus the added fuel of a global pandemic?
You get more of the same statewide teacher shortage, but worse. Beginning the 2020-2021 school year, districts statewide struggled to fill 1,000 vacant teacher positions, double the number from just three years before. The results cascade down the ladder to student performance. In 20 of the state’s counties, high school students who are not considered “job ready” outnumber those who are.
The problem only promises to get worse. The state projects a shortage of 774 science teachers alone by the 2027-28 school year.
Efforts to Combat the Teacher Shortage
These kinds of extrapolations fail to account for resulting changes in behavior. Dozens of initiatives have emerged over the past half decade to combat the shortage, on both the supply and demand sides. One strategy is to fast-track adults from other careers into teaching, a strategy that works even better when the economy sours and jobs are scarce.
The Lowcountry Graduate Center recently invested $10,000 to fund marketing efforts of an accelerated master’s degree in teaching program (M.A.T.) in elementary education to attract more people to teaching and get them into the workforce in a minimum of time and with a minimum of financial commitment.
“Teacher education and leadership development in K-12 education are a priority focus for the LGC in talent cultivation, essential to attract and retain talent for our entire workforce in this region,” said Dr. Nancy Muller, director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center.
How to Get a Master’s Degree in One Year
The program accepts those with a bachelor’s degree in any subject and provides them with a master’s degree and certification curriculum that is designed to be completed in 12 or 13 months. A student matriculating in June can begin teaching the following academic year. Students complete 39 credit hours, including real world, classroom experience, in public elementary schools.
The program is managed at the College of Charleston by former Fulbright Scholar Dr. Brian Lanahan, an associate professor of teacher education. What began with three students expanded to 20 until the Covid pandemic caused accepted students to back off last year. This year, Lanahan says, he already has 16 completed applications and another 20 or so in process with two months to go before the deadline. The eviscerating effect of Covid on other job categories appears to be playing a role in the spike in applications, but Lanahan points out the demand for new teachers is vast.
“If the College of Charleston developed 1,000 highly qualified masters level teachers, the schools would take them all,” he said.
Lanahan’s initiative earned support from area school administrators. “This program is a beacon of hope for school system leaders such as myself, who are strategizing and relentlessly seeking sources for qualified and well trained teachers to educate students across The Lowcountry,” said Melissa Payne, manager of talent acquisition at Meeting Street Schools.
Added William Briggman, chief human resources officer at Charleston County School District, “This will enable us to have more candidates credentialed faster and deployed to classrooms, ready to serve our students in the Lowcountry.”
The Grant to Support Accelerated MAT
An online search of accelerated teacher education is dominated by major universities with virtual programs and behemoth for-profit education companies. Earning a degree with these programs often takes two years and costs $40,000 or more. The intensive College of Charleston program costs in-state student roughly $25,000.
The LGC grant, Lanahan says, will help him compete with those larger institutions in marketing the advantages of the College of Charleston’s program to South Carolinians and boost attendance over the next three years. It won’t solve the massive teacher shortage, but it is one strategy towards ameliorating it.
The Lowcountry Graduate Center has always been highly supportive of our master’s degree program both through classroom space and financial support,” Lanahan said. “I was delighted by the efficiency with which our application was approved. It is a great resource to have.”
If you are interested in the program, visit https://cofc.edu/academics/graduate-degree-progs/graduatedegreeslist/elemed.php or contact Dr. Lanahan directly at [email protected]