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Education summit looks at how to draw new generation into teaching

Teachers and students attend education summit on ways

Teachers and students attend education summit on ways to attract more people to become teachers held at Riverhead High School on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Credit: Veronique Louis

Drawing more teachers into the profession — particularly in certain specialized areas — was the focus of an education summit Thursday.

The state's largest teachers union hosted the conference at Riverhead High School to address a shortage in the field and help diversify the profession. 

The two-hour summit called "Take a Look at Teaching" was one of several across the state and the first of its kind on Long Island. About 100 teachers, students, higher education faculty and policymakers discussed how to inspire a new generation to become teachers. Shortages in the profession vary among regions and subjects, experts said.

"The time to reverse this shortage is now," said Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, who shared stories of inspirational teachers from throughout the state. "Part of these initiatives is for us to talk as a community with our higher ed partners and we need to let them know where the jobs are because they are there," she said.

In addition to the teachers union, the conference was hosted by the Riverhead Central Faculty Association and United University Professions-Old Westbury. 

New York State officials estimate a need for about 180,000 new teachers over the next decade — or as many as 18,000 new teachers annually, according to teachers union, noting a current shortage in several subject areas, high poverty schools, big city districts and rural regions. The increased demand reflects trends in teacher retirements, expected increases in pre-K-to-12 enrollments, fewer individuals entering the profession, and teacher attrition. 

A 2017 analysis by the New York State School Boards Association found that in both Nassau and Suffolk, the subjects most affected by teacher shortages were sciences, special education, technology, English as a new language, and foreign languages. 

Existing shortages appear to be related to a mismatch in supply and demand between the types of teachers coming out of teacher preparation programs and the kinds of teachers most in demand by schools, the report found.

"For example, New York regularly produces a surplus of elementary level teachers, yet not enough teachers in areas such as science, math and special education," read the 2017 state school boards report that looked at the issue statewide.

DiBrango said enrollment in the state's teacher prep programs had declined 53% since 2009 — a "startling figure." An earlier summit upstate led the West Seneca school district and Buffalo State College to work together on a fellowship program to prep future teachers, she said. One participant suggested starting a "future teachers club." 

Riverhead High School senior Marcus Brown, 17, has applied to college and plans to pursue a teaching degree in history. He said his friends had asked why he wanted to go into the field.

"As a teacher you are a role model for kids and you can play an important role in their lives," Brown said.

Diana Sukhram, an associate professor at SUNY Old Westbury and director for education graduate programs there, said the university had several partnerships with many area school districts, including Freeport and Westbury, that give future teachers hands-on experience in the classroom.

"We have listened to the students and the teachers in the field," she said,

The summit also looked at the need to diversify the teacher workforce. Although 43% of students statewide are Hispanic/Latino or African American, just 16% of the teachers are, according to the teachers union. The state Board of Regents released data earlier this month showing that more than 200 school districts statewide do not employ any teachers of color. 

"We have to do a better job of attracting diverse candidates, but where does that work begin?" DiBrango said. "I can tell you it starts with the experience those children have in public schools."

 Also in attendance was Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the Board of Regents.

"It is a caring teacher that makes the difference and because of that I am very wary of some of the new reforms coming through when we should be spending more time on beefing up our teachers. We have to get more kids to become teachers and it is very hard," he said.

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