With DeKalb County Schools continually experiencing teacher shortages, and with the state and the nation experiencing the same crisis, something must be done.

The obvious suggestions include:

  • Restoring dignity and respect to the teaching profession so people actually want to teach
  • Increasing teacher pay so that it attracts more talented individuals and so that it is competitive in pay with alternate positions in non-educational fields
  • Providing teachers with the appropriate materials and supplies to do their jobs
  • Removing some of the duties from teachers that are non-instructional, especially in low-income schools (i.e. fundraising for school supplies, hunting down substitute teachers, dealing with overcrowding, etc.)

I’ve read tons of blogs and news article that focus on these elements and I truly hope that school systems and state education systems are considering these issues in order to improve our teacher shortage. However, in this article I would like to focus on the teacher shortage specific to metro Atlanta school systems and how Teach for America (TFA) could be a part of solving this issue.

What is Teach for America?

Teach for America is a highly competitive (and highly debated program) that recruits young, bright college graduates from some of the country’s top universities and colleges. TFA trains its recruited class over the course of five weeks, and then, after contracting with school systems with at-risk student populations, places the TFA teachers in high-poverty schools as lead teachers.

A study of TFA teachers in Metro Atlanta shows that TFA teachers have had an overall positive effect on education in the area. Even though the program has (in some ways rightfully) been criticized for high teacher turnover, I believe the program does offer benefits to a school district that struggles to attract and retain teachers – especially districts like Clayton County and DeKalb County.

Teacher Shortages

I’ve written several times about the issues we have faced at Cross Keys due to lack of permanent teachers.

  • In one math class at Cross Keys, we had a permanent substitute teacher (who did not have a math certification) stay with a class for 6 weeks (on a block schedule, that’s almost half of the entire course).
  • One science class at CKHS still has a permanent substitute teacher because they haven’t been able to hire a replacement teacher with a science degree. This means an entire class has missed out on a certified teacher yet still has to pass the course and take the end of course test.

These are just two personal anecdotes as to the many issues that arise when there are teacher shortages.

What Can TFA Offer? Pragmatism Over Idealism

While it’s not ideal for a TFA teacher who has a degree in mathematics from a prestigious university to come teach for two years and then run off to another profession or to graduate school (as some criticize TFA teachers for doing), it’s definitely not ideal to have your child “taught” (which might be a strong use of the word) by a substitute who isn’t teaching the subject and who doesn’t know the subject like a certified teacher.

I think we might need to think more pragmatically instead of simply thinking ideologically. Yes, I think there are more efficacious ways to improve public education than just bringing in TFA recruits, but I also think that when you are desperate for teachers, you must utilize the best options. Substitute teachers is not the best option.

Teach for America Teacher or a Substitute Teacher?

For many struggling districts, the choice isn’t between a college graduate who has an education degree and twenty years of experience and a Teach for America teacher who doesn’t have an educational background. The choice is between a substitute teacher or a TFA teacher.

Yehemi Cambron, a Cross Keys High School graduate, decided she wanted to join the TFA cohort, yet she was not able to be placed at a school in DeKalb County because DeKalb County Schools does not contract with TFA. Instead, she teaches at a Unidos Deal Language Charter School in Forest Park, and she is loving her job and making a huge impact in the lives of her students.

TFA Could Solve the Teacher Vacancy Issue

As of August 13, 2015, according to the AJC, the major Metro Atlanta school systems had a total of almost 300 vacancies to start this past school year.

DeKalb                                  140

Fulton                                   105

Cobb                                      nearly 40

Atlanta Public Schools   9

Gwinnett                             6

But DeKalb County won’t contract with TFA due to costs and retention, per this interview with the chief Human Resources Officer and Board Member Stan Jester. I would argue that substitute teachers aren’t staying the course either, so it would be better for our district to contract with TFA so that we don’t continue to experience more teacher shortages.

Interesting to note: in 2012, the state of Georgia had 430 TFA teachers. Today, only 162 (mostly in Clayton County) are employed in Georgia. The difference is almost equal to the number of teachers DeKalb, Fulton, and Cobb were missing. If we employ TFA teachers in these counties, however, I think we could see the teacher shortage issue partially ameliorated.

Let’s bring back Teach for America to the Metro Atlanta schools. Even if we don’t agree with their model entirely, our students will thank us for giving them real, passionate educators — who may just surprise us by sticking around.