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“We need to find a solution sooner rather than later,” Educators, lawmakers mull emergency teachers

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OKLAHOMA - With the state seemingly headed for a record number of emergency certified teachers, lawmakers are taking a closer look at the system, in an attempt to ensure a better education for Oklahoma students.

"When we don’t have the certified teachers in the classroom and we don’t have that kind of experience, then catching the brunt of that are our students," said Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), who called for an interim study into the effects of emergency and alternative teacher certifications.

As the state faces a shortage of teachers, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has been busy approving 926 emergency certifications for classroom teachers who don't have teaching degrees.

The state is on pace to surpass last year's total of 1,063.

Last year, the state also issued 560 alternative certifications, which require more training and have educational standards.

The SDE could not immediately provide alternative certification numbers for this year.

"It is alarming that we have so many people going into the teaching profession that haven’t gone through the colleges of education, haven’t learned the methods for teaching children, helping children learn," said Shawn Hime, a former teacher and executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. "Some are people who may have a degree in something not at all related to the field they’re going into teaching, but they may be the only one willing to work there or that has the heart for teaching at such a late date."

The OSSBA compiles and studies data on all emergency certified teachers each year.

Hime hopes a legislative study can come up with long-term solutions to keep instructors in the state.

He thinks State Question 779, which would increase the sales tax and donate money to teacher salaries and other education-related funds, is a place to start.

Currently, Hime said, emergency certifications end up costing the districts because they pay for intensive training.

Often, the stand-in teachers are gone at the end of the year.

"At the end of the day, what we’ve found, is they don’t stay very long," he said. "So, there’s a big investment over a short period of time to help them be a teacher, and most of them leave the profession or leave that district."

At the capitol Tuesday, educators and lawmakers discussed the extent of Oklahoma's problem, whether it's worse than before and whether Oklahoma is worse-off than other states.

Educators acknowledged it could be hard to measure a newly-certified teacher's impact on a student's success but said the need for quality instructors is always present.

The caliber and qualification of an emergency certified teacher can vary, Hime said.

Some have worked extensively in their subject area.

Others are trained in one area of education but teaching in another.

"If they have some kind of education background, it doesn’t alarm me as much as someone who has no education background," he said. "At least, they have some classroom management skills."

If parents are concerned, Hime encourages them to ask their principal about the resources available to the teachers.

Often, he said, districts are pairing the new teachers up with traditionally certified veterans for mentoring and assistance.

"The long-term effects will be a reduction in academic performance," he said. "We need to find a solution sooner rather than later. As a parent, it breaks my heart to think about a child losing a year or part of a year because you couldn’t find a high-quality teacher for the classroom."