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    For the last six years, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) has released an annual Educator Shortage Survey that offers insights into the staffing challenges facing school districts across the state. This year’s report, released last month, showed that our school districts are still struggling to find qualified educators to fill open positions.

    Of the responding districts, 79% report that they are currently experiencing a teacher shortage, with 30% of open teacher, support staff and special education positions remaining unfulfilled or underfilled by someone less than qualified for the position. This brings the total number of open positions to over 2,700. The 2023 report reflects what we hear from teachers and administrators every day: there is a need for strong, effective teachers, and students are paying the price. As a former principal, I can attest that great teachers change the lives of students; their impact cannot be overstated. 

    We didn’t get to where we are today overnight. A steep decline in student enrollment in our schools of education over the past decade, licensure concerns and additional stressors in the classroom had started us down this troubling path prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which then rapidly exacerbated the problem.

    That’s why it’s also going to take time to resolve this crisis, and why now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Due to the hard work of school officials, stakeholders, and decision makers at the local, state and federal levels, there have been investments made in promising programs and initiatives to effectively recruit and retain teachers. 

    Whether it’s increasing school funding, making teacher training more affordable, keeping changes to allow retired teachers to fill open positions, or identifying ways to build a stronger teacher pipeline, we all have a role to play in ensuring every student has a qualified, effective teacher in their classroom. We’ve seen that there are proven solutions to this crisis, ways to turn the tide in a positive direction.

    I’m grateful to co-lead one of the organizations that is on the frontlines of addressing this problem. Golden Apple, where I serve as President, is a nonprofit committed to preparing, supporting, and mentoring aspiring teachers. We operate two programs, our Scholars program, which is geared toward seniors in high school and freshmen and sophomores in college who aspire to become teachers, and our Accelerators program, a 15-month expedited teacher residency and licensure program aimed at career changers who are looking to enter the classroom.

    Through these programs, we have seen real success in training and placing highly effective teachers in schools of-need across our state, helping to lessen the severity of the teacher shortage and grow the pipeline of aspiring educators. Only a short time ago, we had between 300 and 400 individuals attend our undergraduate Scholars Institutes. This year, we anticipate welcoming 1200 Scholars. That’s four times the number of people who will graduate and help close the teacher gap in communities of need. In the three years since the launch of the Accelerators program, we have placed teachers in 60 school districts across 40 counties in Illinois.

    We are also poised to grow our impact. While Golden Apple educators are currently teaching in 80% of Illinois counties, by 2025, that number will increase to a whopping 90%, where they are filling the positions most in need.

    We aren’t just increasing the flow of the teacher pipeline, we’re patching the holes to improve retention rates across the board. Golden Apple offers wrap-around support for our teachers to ensure they not only enter the profession, but have the tools to stay and excel in it. We make certain they are fully-prepared, placed in an environment that is a fit for the teacher and the school, and are provided mentorship throughout their early years of teaching. Because of this comprehensive approach, 82% of our Scholars stay in teaching beyond their first five years, well above the statewide average. 

    We cannot be discouraged by another report showing what we know to be true – the teacher shortage crisis is real. Instead, we must recognize the progress being made and increase investments in proven solutions. Our state is at a critical juncture in our fight to get an effective teacher in every classroom, and future generations are relying on us to get it right.

    Alan Mather is the President of the Golden Apple Foundation.


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