OPINION: How to make it easier for teachers to stay in the classroom

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When so many states are facing a teacher shortage, why are we shutting experienced teachers out of the classrooms? An important piece of legislation that will solve this problem is gaining momentum.

The solution starts with understanding the economics of becoming a teacher: It takes time and money to be certified.

One of us, Dr. Mayme Hostetter, president of the Relay Graduate School of Education, regularly hears from Relay graduates who don’t get hired despite having earned their teaching certifications and master’s degrees in education. The reason? They’ve moved to a new state. The state departments of education in their new homes instruct the teachers to take more coursework that will cost thousands of dollars.

Imagine being told that your college degree from the University of Minnesota doesn’t count when you move to Wisconsin, and that you’ll have to pay to retake courses from the University of Wisconsin for your degree to count there. No one would put such a restriction on college degrees, but it’s common for teaching credentials. You can see who this system benefits, and it’s not teachers or kids.

Related: Teacher shortages are real, but not for the reason you heard

This summer, like every summer, thousands of teachers across the country will move. Some of these teachers are military spouses, heading to their next posting. One of us, Kim Lopez, now a clinical assistant professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, has been in this very situation. She had to recreate her teaching career every few years when she moved for her spouse’s military relocation. The process was financially, logistically and emotionally draining. Lopez has degrees, specializations and certifications. Why was she expected to start from scratch every time she moved? Why should anyone?

Teachers who earn their credentials in one state should be qualified to teach in another.

We’re not asking states to give up teacher certification altogether. We’re just asking for reciprocity. Teachers who earn their credentials in one state should be qualified to teach in another.

The Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, currently being reviewed and considered by many states, would empower teachers to move from state to state and teach kids wherever they go. If passed, a teacher holding an unencumbered teaching license in one state could easily transfer that license to a new state, provided both states are part of the compact. Essentially, the compact is a passport for teachers, allowing them to stay in the profession when they move.

Related: OPINION: Why the national teacher shortage is really a distribution problem

The compact would increase the pool of qualified teachers nationwide while maintaining strong teaching requirements. It would decrease the time and expense of obtaining additional state teaching licenses. It would keep military spouses, one of the most mobile yet committed groups of educators, in the classroom no matter where they move. Finally, it would give teachers with probationary certification an incentive to obtain professional licensure (a requirement of the compact is to have full certification).

This could be great news for educators and great news for communities — especially in places with notable teacher shortages. A minimum of 10 states was needed to approve the compact for it to go into effect. In June, we hit this threshold. Governors in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah have now signed legislation joining the compact, and those states are now forming a commission to put it into action. Six states are still in session and considering the legislation: California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

In June, we saw one state sign the compact each week. We have momentum. Let’s keep it going. States like California and New York are still grappling with critical teacher shortages. This is the time to be inviting dedicated, qualified teachers to have classroom careers. The Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact is a way to expand access, and we should welcome it with open arms.

Mayme Hostetter is the president of Relay Graduate School of Education.

Kim Lopez is an assistant professor of Education at Arizona State University and military spouse advocate.

This story about teaching credentials was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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