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State working to address teacher shortage


It's not just students dropping out: schools across the state are facing challenges attracting and retaining teachers.

“Too often, when I look around in my school building during my lunch breaks, to just chat with educators, I can’t find people whom I’ve developed meaningful relationships with over the past years, because they have either left the profession or moved to a different state altogether,” said Gregory Hinckson, a math teacher at Brooklyn’s Victory Collegiate High School.

New York State will need an additional 180,000 teachers over the next decade, state officials have estimated. Over the past few years, the number of teachers in the New York City public school system has declined, from 78,761 during the 2018-2019 school year, to 75,936 during the last academic year, according to data from the city Department of Education.

“We have a crisis, you hear about it nationally. For years everybody said ‘Well, New York City would never deal with it.’ Well, we are,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday.

Although the union leader didn’t have an exact assessment of how bad the teacher shortage is expected to be this school year, which started Thursday, he noted that there were definitely shortages among special-education, science and math teachers.

“We definitely took the hit from Covid,” the union leader said.

And, with an estimated 21,000 children who are asylum seekers expected to enter the city public-school system, New York is also short of bilingual teachers. “We know we do not have enough teachers who speak all of these languages; some of these languages that some of the students speak, we’ve never had before in New York City,” Mulgrew said.

A more diverse workforce

On Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a series of bills into law that aim to help school districts across the state recruit and retain teachers, and that will diversify the teaching workforce. The measures will provide funding for school districts to enact plans to attract teachers from underrepresented communities.

Currently, 54 percent of city public school teachers are white, while about 81 percent of students are people of color. 

“This is a call to action to reshape our workforce in a way that children can see themselves reflected in these important positions of authority. So, we have to focus on this,” Hochul said during the bill signing at the UFT’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. “Research from John Hopkins showed that Black students who had one Black teacher … by third grade, were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. … They saw an important individual who looked like them, who had to go to college themselves to be there, and that was the inspiration.”

Recruiting more teachers was important not just to address teacher shortages within city schools, but also because the city public school system is facing a mandate to reduce its class sizes, which will require the DOE to hire an estimated 9,000 teachers over the next few years.

Hochul also signed a measure into a law that provides $30 million into the Empire State Teacher Residency Program, which will help subsidize teachers’ master’s degrees and certifications by providing reduced or free tuition and helping to pay for books and living expenses. The first round of funding is expected to aid 400 prospective teachers.

The final bill signed by the governor requires the state Education Department to issue guidance to school districts to develop workplace violence prevention programs. In 2006, the state enacted the Workplace Violence Prevention Act, which required public employers to establish plans to identify and prevent violence. Schools were exempted from the law.

“Why is it that every other workplace matters, that there's a requirement that there be a plan in place except in schools and in classrooms? We are signing legislation that adds public school to this law, so our educators feel safe at work,” Hochul said.

School staffers have been advocating for the legislation for more than a decade, according to Melinda Pearson, the president of the New York State United Teachers.

“Just like other employers, we deserve the protections that all workers deserve in the workplace,” Pearson said during Wednesday’s event. “[The law] has increased in importance, as we’ve seen an increase in disruptive incidents in our schools since the pandemic.”



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