Assemblywoman Jenne Talks Teacher Shortage Issues with SUNY Potsdam Education Majors, Faculty and Staff

February 28, 2017

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne and SUNY Potsdam education major Brittany Severson discuss the value of adding diversity to the North Country teaching force. Ms. Severson said her initial experiences in an elementary classroom led to her decision to stay in the North Country for her student teaching assignment. Pictured are (l-r): SUNY Potsdam education major Katherine Ames, SUNY Potsdam School of Education and Professional Studies Interim Dean Robyn Hosley, Ms. Severson, Assemblywoman Jenne and SUNY Potsdam education major Brittany Van Tassel. (Jason Hunter/SUNY Potsdam Photo)

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne said concerns about the looming teacher shortage in the region and state prompted her recent stop at SUNY Potsdam to learn more about the college's education program from students, faculty and staff members.

"The significant decrease in the number of students majoring in education at SUNY Potsdam is posing challenges for teacher recruitment efforts at local schools and the loss of those future teacher candidates has posed challenges for SUNY Potsdam due to the drop in its enrollment numbers," the assemblywoman said.

There were 216 undergraduate education majors (childhood/early childhood and secondary) during the fall 2016 semester compared to 729 undergraduate education majors in 2010.

The number of graduate education majors this past fall, 113, is approximately half of the 225 graduate education majors that were enrolled in the graduate education program just six years ago.

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Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne recently spent time at SUNY Potsdam visiting with students, faculty and staff members to discuss the college's education program and the looming teacher shortage. Pictured are (l-r): SUNY Potsdam education major Katherine Ames, SUNY Potsdam School of Education and Professional Studies Interim Dean Robyn Hosley, SUNY Potsdam education major Brittany Van Tassel, Center for School Partnerships and Teacher Certification Director Amy Guiney, Secondary English Education instructor Joanne Stiles, education major William Murphy and SUNY Potsdam Director of Strategic Partnerships John Wicke. (Jason Hunter/SUNY Potsdam Photo)

Assemblywoman Jenne said the drop in new teacher candidates is a reflection of job losses and a difficult job market in recent years as well as a political environment that has often portrayed educators in a negative light.

The teacher shortage is not an issue limited to the North Country. The Teach NY Advisory Council's report released in May 2016 revealed the onset of the Great Recession in 2009 significantly reduced the demand for elementary and secondary teachers.

School districts in the North Country eliminated hundreds of teaching positions by laying off teachers and opting not to fill positions vacated through retirements.

The Teach NY report said approximately 300,000 teachers and other school employees lost their jobs over the past decade, and education majors faced one of the worst job markets in recent history when they earned their degrees. New York was one of the states that was hardest hit by those economic challenges.

But schools around the North Country and the state have started restoring positions in the past couple of years, and SUNY Potsdam said simple demographics show the demand for teachers will be growing over the next few years.

SUNY Potsdam Secondary Education Department Chair Peter Brouwer said the average age of teachers in the state is 48. "That means there will be significant turnover in the teacher workforce in the next five years," he pointed out.

Dr. Brouwer said the institution of the Common Core also impacted interest in the education field and has created issues in efforts to recruit future teachers. "Common Core, the way it was rolled out, made it very hard. But it is not as stressful now as it was. It has become institutionalized," he pointed out.

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Nicole Conant (l), assistant director of SUNY Potsdam's Center for School Partnerships and Teacher Certification, leads Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (center) on a tour of Mary E. English Commons that celebrates the history and traditions of SUNY Potsdam. Ms. Conant and Assemblywoman Jenne were joined on the tour by SUNY Potsdam Director of Strategic Alliances John Wicke. (Jason Hunter/SUNY Potsdam Photo)

The college's Secondary Education chair said he is already seeing the demand for teachers. "One of my biggest frustrations right now is we have already been contacted about a dozen openings for math teachers, and we are only going to have three math grads this year," he noted.

Nicole Conant, assistant director of School Partnerships and Teacher Certification, said the demand for teachers is running across the curriculum.

"The North Country Region is experiencing a high demand for secondary-level teachers due to turnover and retirements. SUNY Potsdam receives many inquiries from local districts to help fill positions with our high-quality candidates," she said.

The college currently has challenges meeting that demand. SUNY Potsdam currently has 63 undergraduate and graduate education majors student teaching 43 childhood, eight secondary science, eight secondary social studies, three secondary English, two secondary foreign languages and secondary math.

The teaching degrees from SUNY schools offer graduates flexibility with selecting employment locations, with approximately 10 percent of the college's education graduates leaving the state for employment.

Dr. Brouwer said in addition to the value of working with students there are also other positives to entering the field of education. "Teaching is essentially a job for life with stable employment and good retirement benefits," he pointed out.

Several education majors from SUNY Potsdam - most from the North Country shared their experiences from the education program and showed their passion for their chosen career field during the roundtable with Assemblywoman Jenne.

They ranged from lessons about the importance of diversity in the classroom that Brittany Severson of Freeport said she learned as she spent time in an elementary classroom in Massena to the opportunity Brittany Van Tassel has had to work one-on-one with students through the Adopt A Bear program at Potsdam Central.

Roger Maxam, an early childhood/childhood education major from Clinton, had high praise for SUNY Potsdam's education program.

"If you want to succeed in education, you can do it here. That's why I am going to come back here to get my master's degree," he said.

The roundtable discussion also featured discussions about the college's effort to attract students to stay and teach in the North Country, professional development opportunities available to students through the Teacher Education Student Association, work underway to increase the diversity of teacher candidates and some of the challenges facing students through edTPA and certification exam process.

Assemblywoman Jenne said she found the roundtable discussion to be a valuable learning experience. "As a state level leader, I think it is important for me to get a first-hand look so I can learn about the impacts larger educational policies at the state and national level have had on the profession," she said.

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Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne recently visited SUNY Potsdam to talk with students, faculty and staff members about the college's education program and the looming teacher shortage. Pictured are, front row (l-r): SUNY Potsdam education major Katherine Ames, SUNY Potsdam School of Education and Professional Studies Interim Dean Robyn Hosley, SUNY Potsdam education major Brittany Van Tassel and Center for School Partnerships and Teacher Certification Director Amy Guiney. Back row: Teacher Education Advising Coordinator Lisa Stewart; education majors Marisa Madson, William Murphy, Roger Maxam and Brittany Severson; Secondary English Education instructor Joanne Stiles; SUNY Potsdam's Center for School Partnerships and Teacher Certification Assistant Director Nicole Conant and Secondary Education Department Chair Peter Brouwer. (Jason Hunter/SUNY Potsdam Photo)

"Teachers are one of the most important professions in our society. It's important for me to understand the serious challenges we are facing to get our best and brightest to enter the education field," according to the assemblywoman.

"This visit provided me with an opportunity to talk to students and educational professionals, including the interim dean, about the current state of affairs and strategies they are taking to strengthen the pipeline," she added.

"This isn't going to be an easy time. It's going to take a concentrated and targeted effort to really address the situation. I was delighted to see SUNY Potsdam is working in earnest to address the situation, not just for the North Country but for the profession on a much larger scale," Assemblywoman Jenne said.