Kentucky Education Commissioner says changes must be made to profession to address teacher shortage

Kentucky has seen a shortage of teachers as there have been more than 5,000 job openings for educators since the beginning of 2019 and critical shortages for special education, career, and world language teachers.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis stated the national trend of teacher shortages is troubling and is a result of many factors including the profession not being appealing to many students as a result of some misconceptions and a lack of progress within the field.

Lewis highlighted the generational differences he believes play a role in fewer students deciding to choose education as their career path. He pointed to the changes in flexibility and other areas many other sectors have made in recent years in order to make positions desirable to millennials and younger generations while education has made no changes at all.

When considering these younger generations Lewis said, “Generally, they’re looking for the opportunity to work hard but have some return on investment, meaning the opportunity to move up, to have expanded responsibility as they move up, to be recognized. We also recognize that they’re not going to stay in the same place for long periods of time.”

Teachers staying more than three or five years is becoming less typical, which he said requires solutions to embrace those good educators while they are in the classroom but also continues to cherish the teachers who choose to spend their entire careers in the classroom.

As for the argument that much of the teacher shortage is a result of the current political atmosphere and discussion around making changes to the retirement system for future Kentucky teachers, Lewis said while he does not feel this issue is directly related to the Kentucky conversations around pensions, he does feel the state would be wise to start looking at a benefits package that is more attractive to younger workers who don’t tend to stay in a job for 30 years.

“We’re going to have to create benefits packages that are flexible enough for someone who wants to stay 30 years and get that maximum benefit, but also for someone who wants to commit three to five years where they can still leave and feel like they haven’t just given up on five years of contributing toward their retirement,” Lewis said.

With the goal of making changes to make the education profession more appealing, Lewis stated the Kentucky Department of Education will soon be launching an initiative called Go Teach KY to encourage individuals to explore teaching careers.

In order to inspire the next generation of teachers in Kentucky Lewis said, “We’re going to have to find ways to think outside of the box, using these alternative approaches, using innovative approaches in colleges of teacher education, to get more folks into the teaching profession. It really is an all hands-on deck type of situation,” Lewis said.

Watch the full interview with Commissioner Lewis below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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