By Tonya Little
There has been an increase in emergency teaching certifications state-wide, including in the Mid-Del School district. Oklahoma has become reliant on emergency teaching certifications to help during the teacher shortage in the state. Unfortunately many qualified teachers, both long time teachers and newly graduating ones, move out of state looking for more competitive pay, which leaves gaping holes behind. The Oklahoma State Department of Education has approved 855 emergency certifications statewide to date, including approving 224 at the June school board meeting and 631 at the July school board meeting according to Deana Silk, the Deputy Director of Communications with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The Mid-Del district has 28 positions filled with emergency teaching certificates so far, spread fairly evenly throughout the grades and subjects throughout the district.
“It’s a little bit higher this year. Two years ago we had around 21 or 22 and last year it was a little lower, but because we cut some positions I think everything was just a little bit lower, so this year it’s bounced back and gone up,” said Mid-Del Superintendent Rick Cobb.
State law requires that teachers be certified. There are different paths to certification, including traditional and alternative. Emergency certifications can be requested by districts when a candidate has not yet fulfilled all the requirements of full certification. More information about different paths to certification can be found on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website. Emergency certification should only be requested when the district has exhausted every option to find an appropriately certified person for the open position. Applicants approved for an emergency certificate who have never been certified must have a current Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint-based criminal history record check processed by the Professional Standards Section before a certificate will be issued.
Although the number of teachers with emergency certifications has increased, Cobb doesn’t foresee this as a problem or hindering the district in any way. Many people with college degrees in other areas discover later that they have a natural ability for the teaching field, or discover they have a passion for it, and this just gives them the opportunity to pursue that career without having to go back and get another degree specifically for teaching. It also helps out districts who don’t have enough qualified applicants to fill the teaching positions needed. There’s nothing to say that just because a teacher has an emergency teaching certificate, that they won’t end up being a highly effective and motivating teacher for our students.
“The thing that we really look for on our end is doing what we can do to help people who didn’t go to college specifically to become teachers still become good teachers. We feel like they might start a little bit behind the curve as far as teaching strategies and classroom management is concerned, so we have instructional coaches, we have curriculum staff, we have people whose jobs are helping our teachers become better teachers. That’s really where we focus when we have new, and especially when we have emergency certified teachers, is helping them and basically being there as a safety net if they struggle,” said Cobb.
While this necessary provision helps staff our Oklahoma schools during the teacher shortages, eventually the state as a whole will need to find a way to keep qualified teachers here in our state so that there won’t be holes to fill.