East Baton Rouge schools say they have a critical shortage of teachers, and school starts Friday. They're short teachers in math, science, physical education, art, and special needs. WAFB's Caroline Moses spoke with some teachers who fear uncertified teachers may be hired to fill the vacancies.
Rhonda Browning has been teaching for 24 years, but this will be her first year in East Baton Rouge. She teaches students with severe disabilities. She says, "We've always been the red-headed step-child of education and we've got to let people know we're not babysitters, not day-care workers and our kids can learn and will learn if you know how to teach them." Browning says she thinks that's the problem. She says there are not enough qualified teachers who are willing and able to tackle special needs. "Some of them coming in only have had four weeks of training in teaching. You come out of college knowing how to teach if you went through an education program. If you came through liberal arts, you haven't learned that and I'm a little concerned for some of them."
This year, EBR schools are short in special education teachers more than any other area. School board officials say they have to start hiring people who are not fully certified, temporary authority teachers. Liz Swinford with human resources says, "Come July and August, we run out. We hired every special ed. teacher that wants to come and work for us already, and I still have vacancies." Swinford says they lose teachers to other states and to the private sector. Their solution is to hire temporary teachers.
Temporary teachers have to have a four-year degree, pass a writing test, and background screenings, but they have less training than a certified teacher. First-year teacher Ashley Ponder says, "Because there is such a huge shortage of teachers, they're allowing people from other professions to come in." Ponder does not have a teaching degree, and is taking an accelerated program to get certified. She says, "I've been at school trying to get ready for this week from 8:00am 'til the custodian crew has kicked me out at 8:00 at night."
At last count, when the bell rings Friday, 125 teachers will be in classrooms at EBR schools, which are not considered fully certified to teach. The school board says they constantly try to replace temporary teachers with fully certified ones, but they consistently have some in the system that teach without complete qualifications.