Special Report: The Teacher Shortage, Part 2Posted: Updated:
CodiAnne Salzman is a junior at SUNY Potsdam. She's getting her bachelor's degree in early childhood education, but would like to get her master's degree in special education.
"My uncle, who has an intellectual disability, I actually taught him how to read and write when they told him he never would be able to. I love helping people and saying that I can make a difference in someone's life is what I want to do," she said.
While there are still students like Salzman pursuing a career in education, SUNY Potsdam's interim dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies, Dr. Walter Conley, says the number of education majors has declined since 2009-2010 in Potsdam and at SUNY schools across the state.
"The numbers have declined statewide by 50 percent," he said.
In 2010, there were 463 early childhood/childhood education majors at SUNY Potsdam. This past fall, 236 students were enrolled in that major. Conley believes that people may have been turned off by a career in education when the state tied how students did on their standardized tests to teacher evaluations.
"The way that they were tied to the performance of teachers on exams that they had no control over," he said.
But things could change. Right now, there's a bill in Albany that would "decouple" standardized tests from teacher evaluations. It's already passed in the Assembly and was introduced to the Senate.
In 2020, the Next Generation Learning Standards for English and Math will replace Common Core, which was less than popular with teachers.
And despite the number of education majors being so low right now, Conley says he's starting to see a renewed interest in students majoring in education.
"The graduate programs right now are ahead of what we expected, we're meeting all our targets. Our secondary education programs, some of those have doubled in applications this year."
Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Stephen Todd says while it will be a few years before schools stop scrambling for teachers, he's encouraged by how many student teachers are being placed in north country school districts.
"At one point that had dried up to a trickle and now it's starting to climb back up and we're not back up to the peak levels yet, but it's climbing," he said.
Student teacher Kady Hart will be graduating with her master's degree in special education this summer.
"I already have a job lined up for the fall. In the end the hard work paid off in order for me to get that job," she said.
The average salary for a teacher in Jefferson County is about $57,000, close to $56,000 in Lewis County and about $57,000 for St. Lawrence County. Despite there being a teacher shortage now, school administrators say they're hopeful for the future.