(Mark Clavin/WOUB)

Educators Brainstorm Ways To Attract More Of Their Own

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ATHENS – Local educators and community members came together on Tuesday evening at the Athens Community Center to strategize about improving teacher recruitment, preparation and retention in the region.

The forum was sponsored by Ohio University’s Patton College of Education and was the first of four events organized by the Southeast Ohio Teacher Development Collaborative. The panel assembled by the collaborative included local school teachers, union representatives, superintendents and an official from the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

An often discussed issue is teacher pay and how it compares to other fields. Panelists acknowledged the competition between teaching and other professions, but also discussed the potential impact excellent educators can make in the community.

Stephanie Starcher, superintendent of Fort Frye Local Schools in the Washington County village of Beverly, noted that salary is a major challenge for attracting teachers to her district.

“A lot of teachers will work for a decent wage if they are valued publically.” Starcher said.

Ellen Adornetto, educational reform consultant for the Ohio Education Association, argued that societal changes have also played a role in the need for more people to enter the classroom.

“Previously, education has been oriented by gender…[women]could be one of three things – a mother, teacher, or a nurse.” Adornetto said. “Teaching as a profession now has competition, and we need to bring our game on. We need to make the best parts of this profession shine.”

The panelists also described the need for local school districts to identify talented students and encourage them to consider teaching.

“Most teachers are not recommending students to be teachers,” said Melissa Cropper from the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who served in Brown County for more than a decade.

A majority of the forum’s speakers are in the school system or served in the past, and many talked about the positive impact teachers can have on their communities.

Athens Middle School teacher April Stewart said she was “called to be a teacher”, while Cropper stressed that high school guidance counselors should talk to students about majoring in education in college.

Students interested in becoming educators can take advantage of the State’s new College Credit Plus program, which allows high school students to earn college credit that will be transferrable to any public college or university in Ohio.

The program is in its first year of implementation and is already helping students gain college credits, according to Rebecca L. Watts, Associate Vice Chancellor for P-16 Initiatives for the Ohio Department of Higher Education. However, Watts encourages high school students, guidance counselors, and parents to look into the program before starting.

“(Courses in the program) are the beginning of your college transcript…” Watts said.

This is because high school students typically take these classes at their local community college or university. High school students can also earn general education credits through Advanced Placement courses.

Ohio has 54 four-year colleges and universities offering teacher certification programs, but there are still numerous areas of high need for teachers, in subjects like science, math, and foreign language.

Watts said the state is “producing too many early childhood educators” and added that early childhood would not be a need statewide anytime soon.

The Southeast Ohio Teacher Development Collaborative will hold three other panels this month in the region to discuss the issues of educator recruitment, retention, and preparation. The next panel is at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth on April 14. The last two panels will take place at Muskingum University in New Concord on April 21 and at the University of Rio Grande in Gallia County on April 26.