We need to make it more affordable to become a teacher in Pennsylvania

By Marina Lagattuta

It’s not easy to become a teacher in Pennsylvania. I should know. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg, I have worked for three years to become one.

I’ve seen fellow education majors come and go, some drawn to other job prospects with higher earning potential, others discouraged by cynical political efforts to turn parents and communities against public school teachers.

And then there are the countless others who simply cannot afford to become a teacher. High tuition fees, lack of financial aid, and a 12-week unpaid education requirement that makes it virtually impossible to maintain even a part-time job.

Is it any wonder that fewer students are choosing careers in education?

And we all know what that means. In Pennsylvania, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of new teachers. Pennsylvania issued nearly 14,000 fewer first-grade teacher certificates in the 2021-22 school year than in 2012-13. This is an unthinkable drop of 73% in nearly a decade.

Fortunately, a number of efforts are underway in Harrisburg and across the state to address this crisis.

Topping the list is House Bill 688, sponsored by State Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County, which establishes a new scholarship program for future educators.

The Teacher Pipeline Scholarship Program would provide annual scholarships of $8,000 to college students studying to become teachers. Not only will this make it more affordable to become a teacher, but it will reduce student loan debt for Pennsylvania teachers in the long run.

House Bill 141, sponsored by Representative Mike Schlossberg of Lehigh County, has a similar goal. He would establish a “Grow Your Own” teacher program in Pennsylvania. It is based on the idea that we need to do a better job of recruiting teachers from the communities that need them the most.

There are hardworking paraprofessionals, teacher assistants and other support staff in public schools across the state who would love to pursue a career in teaching but don’t have the money or the network. support to return to university. A “Grow Your Own” program will provide financial assistance and mentoring to these people so they can take the leap.

House Bills 688 and 141 were approved by the state House of Representatives in early May. I hope the State Senate will take these bills and send them to Governor Josh Shapiro’s office.

I also hope the Legislature will pass a measure — which already has bipartisan support — to provide a stipend to student teachers in Pennsylvania while they complete their 12 weeks of mandatory student education.

Many of my fellow students earn money by attending internships or internships, but student teachers are required to serve full-time in their internships for 12 weeks without earning a dime. I’ve heard of major education friends struggling to pay for the ride, which can be an hour or more each day. Paying student teachers a modest stipend will remove a heavy financial burden to become a teacher.

We also need to talk about paying our teachers more. Over time, incomes have not kept up with inflation, another reason fewer young people are entering the profession. We must adopt policies that compensate teachers and support staff in a way that is competitive with other industries and reflects the value teachers bring to their students and communities. A number of other states with bipartisan governors have recently enacted higher starting salaries for teachers. Pennsylvania should do the same.

We also have a responsibility as a society to uplift our teachers and show them more respect. For years, they have been educating students in extremely difficult circumstances, navigating students’ academic needs as well as their mental and emotional health. The kind of rhetoric playing out in many school elections this year is expressly designed to pit teachers against parents and communities. We must reject these political efforts. They are not in the best interests of students and they will only divert more young people from careers in the classroom.

We’ve been talking about teacher shortages for years in Pennsylvania. It’s no mystery what’s behind it. We know what to do.

We need to respect our teachers, compensate them fairly, and create affordable pathways for more talented and caring people like me to enter the profession and make a difference.

Marina Lagattuta is a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, majoring in secondary education, majoring in English literature. She has just completed her third year in the education program and will begin teaching students in the fall.


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