The U.S. is facing a shortage of teachers, including the ever-present serious issue of a shortage of teachers of color. With the emergence of COVID, more and more teachers in the workforce have been infected and quarantined.
Safety concerns about COVID-19 have led some educators to leave the profession, including 40% of teachers with 21 to 30 years of experience and even 55% of teachers with more than 30 years of experience. This has simultaneously exacerbated the ongoing shortage of teachers of color in the U.S. In response, Connecticut has proposed a plan that it claims will address the teacher shortage, prepare the next generation of highly skilled professionals, and diversify the state’s teaching workforce.
In practice, however, the scheme does not really respond to and address the teacher shortage in a meaningful way, does not produce quality education quickly and efficiently, and requires long-term investment to diversify the state’s teaching force.
Connecticut and school officials announced a program in November 2020 to bring college students majoring in education into primary schools classrooms. The NextGen Educators program was created by a partnership between the state Department of Education and Central Connecticut State University. It places students who are studying to become educators in public school classrooms where they will support experienced teachers two to three days a week. And NextGen teachers are paid fees agreed with the school system. The pilot program is already underway in Bristol Public Schools.
The project is intended to attract more students into the education system through financial assistance and internship opportunities to better support their academic and professional development, train the next generation of highly skilled educators and alleviate the teacher shortage.
But at the same time, there are valid critiques of NextGen. For one thing, the program will increase the pressure on current teachers to help the interns. In the program description, these students will enter public schools with the support of experienced teachers. This is quick, hands-on training that takes advantage of the classroom environment and the experienced energy of the teachers. In an environment where there is already a shortage of educators, it will put more pressure on the teachers to spend more time and energy to train these students. Secondly, interns trained in this environment, with limited resources and energy, do not have the benefit of long-term teaching knowledge and experience. They are not able to bring the appropriate level of instruction to children who are currently in desperate need of attention from professional teachers. And the students will have a shorter tenure than professional teachers and less time on campus, a situation that is fraught with instability and high mobility.
On the question of whether this program can increase the diversity of teachers, we need to think about why there is a shortage of teachers from ethnic minorities.
According to the U.S. racial wealth gap, people of color have lower income levels and net worth than white households. So minority students have greater economic pressures hindering their career progress. And the next generation of education programs, in which students receive corresponding salaries, should attract and train more diverse students as future teacher candidates, thereby having a positive impact on students of color, further allowing for an increase in teachers of color.
Overall, The NextGen Educators program does well in providing students with good opportunities to get paid and encouraging students of different ethnicities and backgrounds to join the teaching profession. However, it does not do much in the short term to address the shortage of teachers and to train the next generation of highly skilled professionals. Therefore, the Connecticut government should conduct a rigorous evaluation of the program to further clarify the purpose of the program and the extent to which it has been effective in different areas, in order to decide whether or not to expand the program in the future. In the meantime, policy makers should seriously consider and provide a long term development strategy to directly address the underlying problem of teacher shortage in the state, and to make sure it does not continue into the future.
Shelley Xia is a junior at Trinity College, currently double-majoring in Educational Studies and Economics. Jiwen Fan is a junior at Trinity College, currently double-majoring in Educational Studies and Film Studies.