Oklahoma approves 500 ’emergency’ teachers

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EL RENO, Okla. - Jennifer Hardaway can't help but smile as she paces her senior English classroom at El Reno High School, weaving jokes with her students in between her lesson plan.

"I love it," she said. "It's always been my passion since 2nd grade, I always wanted to be a teacher."

Thanks to unfortunate circumstances in Oklahoma, she got her chance.  Hardaway never student taught, came up short of her teaching certificate, but the General Studies major is the beneficiary of the state's emergency certification system -- which gives people, many of whom did not go to school for teaching degrees, a shot at working in the classroom.

That's looking at it positively.

Thursday, the State Board of Education approved 503 emergency certifications for teachers.  All of them must have a Bachelor's degree, but none of them necessarily need to have a teaching certificate. And those who do, may not be teaching the subject they specialize in.

"It's absolutely not ideal," said El Reno superintendent Craig McVay. "The message that it's sending is we're in crisis mode and if you are a parent, you should be worried."

A list of approved emergency teachers, provided to NewsChannel 4 by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, shows English teachers with Anthropology degrees, science teachers with Funeral Service Degrees and Physical Education degrees.

Emergency Certificates Spreadsheet

"They all are making the best of a really bad crisis situation," said McVay. "You're talking about a shortage of a thousand teachers. That's a lot of teachers. And that's a lot of classrooms that may not get a qualified person in there."

McVay has tried to play with the hand he's been dealt, hiring "not just a warm body," but qualified instructors.

"We can teach them how to teach," he said. "We can teach them the pedagogy, the science of teaching, but they need to have the heart and that's what we looked for first."

That's what he saw in Hardaway, who has experience teaching at Redlands Community College.

But the process to get her approved has still been difficult, requiring a lot of paperwork and out-of-pocket costs.

"It shouldn't be so difficult," said Hardaway. "The hoops, the red tape, the road blocks. Yes you should be qualified. You don't want it to be an easy process, but you don't want additional road blocks for those who really want to do this."

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association says the problem is not enough teachers are staying in Oklahoma, flocking instead to neighboring states where the pay is better.

"It's really concerning," said Christy Watson, OSSBA director of communications. "It's time to take a look at this problem. We need lawmakers, we need educators, we need parents to work together to get more highly qualified teachers in our classrooms."

But until that happens, she says, things could get worse before they get better.

Superintendents are having to make some really tough decisions of 'do I hire somebody who maybe isn't fully certified or do they not and increase class sizes?'" she said. "Or do they cut courses altogether? And the truth is districts are doing all three of those just to do what's in the best interest of children."

Each pinmark represents an emergency certificate: blue for a school counselor, green for elementary or early childhood, and red for all other subject areas. Click on the pinmark for details. Pinmarks are approximate locations within school districts for illustrative purposes and do not represent school locations.

Local districts with emergency certification teachers:

  • Bethany: 2
  • Canadian Valley Technology: 1
  • Chickasha: 1
  • Cleveland: 1
  • Clinton: 4
  • Deer Creek: 1
  • Edmond: 9
  • El Reno: 4
  • Enid: 16
  • Hinton: 2
  • Millwood: 9
  • Mustang: 5
  • Oklahoma City: 149
  • Putnam City: 47

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