OKLAHOMA CITY – Teachers are in such high demand in Oklahoma, the situation has been called an emergency – literally.
In just two years, the number of “Emergency Certification” requests from schools has risen from 97 to 499, according to the State Department of Education.
Those are districts that need a teacher immediately because of a shortage.
“Maybe they’ve advertised for a position and can’t fill it,” Jeff Smith, Executive Director of Teacher Certification said Tuesday. “They’ve had someone leave in the middle of the year.”
Right now, there are approximately one thousand teacher vacancies in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma State School Board Association (OSSBA)
The emergency certification allows someone without formal training to step into the classroom and teach.
For example, a private sector scientist could become a chemistry teacher if their skill set is comparable and the district specifically requests them.
“Someone who is an accountant and wanted to be a business teacher,” Smith gave as another example. “We’re just trying to accommodate and help schools any way we can to get them through this rough patch.”
That emergency certification lasts till the end of the school year, officials say, and the teacher must achieve certification during the year if they want to continue teaching.
Low pay is mostly to blame for the teacher shortage, according to OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime.
“We’re not paying market value for our teachers,” he said.
Surrounding states often recruit Oklahoma teachers who make considerably less money at home.
“The Gainesville’s, the other schools will cross (state lines),” Hime said. “They’ll come over to the Holiday Inn of Ardmore, set up a teacher fair, and write bonus checks for teachers if they teach math, if they teach science, if they speak spanish.”
Sooner state teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, with a starting salary of approximately $31,600.
Hime points out they haven’t received a state pay raise in eight years.
“I do think that’s a crisis,” he said. “The most impactful thing on educating a child is a high quality teacher, and if we need a thousand just to meet the minimum, then that’s something we have to take action on.”
Hime hopes the state legislature can approve incremental pay raises over the next several years.