Kevin: One in four teachers say they are likely to quit their jobs in the near future. And they will be leaving at a time when two-thirds of public school districts are already struggling with the impacts of a nationwide teacher shortage. How can we attract more people to the teaching profession? What will it take to get them trained and certified? And how can we streamline the process to fill open positions quickly? This is "What I Want to Know."
Kevin: And today, I'm joined by Dave Saba to find out. Dave Saba is the chief development officer at Teachers Of Tomorrow, an organization that has changed the way teachers are trained and certified. Since its founding in 2005, Teachers Of Tomorrow has put tens of thousands of new teachers into America's classrooms. Dave is with us today to outline what administrators and policymakers need to know about alternative certification programs, and how they can help remedy a teacher shortage that is reaching epic proportions.
Dave, welcome to the show.
Dave: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Kevin: So, Dave, I always like to find out how my guests get to where they are. And you grew up in the DC area, Northern Virginia in Herndon. And you've talked a lot about the influence of your algebra teacher, Mr. Barrett. In fact, he even helped steer you toward understanding the connection between math and engineering. Talk about that influence.
Dave: The major influence was I was struggling so much with math and the theoretical side of it, but he really worked to bring out the fact that it wasn't all theoretical, that there was a practical side to what we were trying to do. And when that started to click with me, that's when I really found that I really enjoyed math and I enjoyed science and started to drive towards engineering, which is what my dad was, my dad was an engineer for IBM.
Kevin: How much did that struck of you, just the influence of Mr. Barrett, and how much of a difference it made in terms of your understanding?
Dave: It always helped me to really realize the importance of teaching and the importance of teaching, not just, you know, in helping kids learn and helping kids be productive, but it affects every aspect of our society. If we don't have great government teachers, how can we expect kids to be, you know, politically active? If we don't have great engineering instructors, how are we ever going to develop STEM? If we don't have great English teachers, how are we going to communicate?
So it really impressed upon me the importance of teaching and how it does critically impact everything we do as a society. And that's really where my appreciation of teaching came.
Kevin: What prompted you to leave business where you had a lot of success and ultimately say, "I wanna contribute in another way directly in education?"
Dave: It was really through Kaplan Test Prep. They recruited me to be the Mid-Atlantic regional director for Kaplan. And that's really where I was able to find this great intersection of both business and education, where I could still be in the business world, but also, you know, really derive great satisfaction in helping people achieve their goals.
Kevin: What do you think about the overall morale of our teaching force in America? You interact with a lot of them. I have my views. I get the sense it's very challenged, but share your thoughts.
Dave: You know, there are so many surveys about teaching and what the teaching workforce is feeling. And this is probably some of the lowest numbers we've seen as far as satisfaction with the profession, and the challenges of COVID have definitely made their job much, much more difficult. And it's making it very challenging to find and to keep teachers right now. And it's everything.
You know, they're not making the decision whether or not students in their class have to wear a mask, but they've got parents yelling at them on both sides of the issue, it's just the stress of, you know, is somebody gonna bring COVID? Are we gonna have to then go back out and do online learning? Are we gonna be live? We're going back and forth. It's just a lot of stress. At the same time right now, you've got incredibly low unemployment.
And anytime you have low unemployment, the number of articles on teacher shortages skyrocket. Somebody actually plotted the graph and saw that when we have high unemployment, no teaching shortage articles, there is no teaching shortage. When we have low unemployment, the number of teaching articles skyrocket. So there are actually companies right now going into and recruiting teachers to come into this new profession, whatever profession it is. And so it's really become a challenge for our schools and school districts to find the talent they need to make sure that every child has a great teacher right now.
Kevin: Let's really dig a little deeper on the reasons why teachers are leaving now. You mentioned the pandemic, what are some of the other things you would put on that list?
Dave: The predominant reasons are pay, working conditions, administration. Many of them get promoted. There are a lot more opportunities at the district level than there used to be.
Kevin: To go in administration?
Dave: To go in administration.
Dave: You know, people move...you know, it gets down to economics. We had a lot of teachers tell us they had a child and it didn't pay to put them in daycare and draw the salary. They were just moving the money over to the daycare. So they said, I'm just gonna stay home until, you know, the child gets of school age, and then I'll come back into the teaching profession. So it really does speak to the economic issue for teachers. But a lot of it does have to do with working conditions and administration.
Kevin: Now, working conditions, and I've had other people talk about this, would you include sort of, I don't know how else to characterize it, the crazy politics of the day where teachers are being whipsawed, as you said, on both sides of issue. It could be teaching about, you know, critical race theory, or it could be about, you know, mass vaccinations, it could be about presidential politics. You would lump that into working conditions?
Dave: I would. And I think that's what they're saying...and there was 8%, they did a survey here in Texas that also just a general concern for their overall safety.
Kevin: Wow. You mean 8% of the teachers, almost 10%, 1 out of 10 were concerned about their safety?
Dave: Yes. And that has to do with the pandemic too. It could be COVID-related. It could be, you know, just the overall animosity that's going on there, but they do feel like, especially with the pandemic that they don't want to go to school anymore and teach, they're looking for jobs that are gonna let them teach at home.
Kevin: So let's talk about solutions. And one of the solutions is making sure that the path to teaching, which includes the certification process, isn't a barrier to teaching. And you've been involved in an alternative certification program. But first, let's talk about certifications. If you're a young student in college that wants to teach, typically, what would you have to go through to be able to be certified to teach in your state?
Dave: If you are in college, you know, you could go through the teaching program at your college and you would do a student teaching, and then you would take your certification test, both your subject matter test, and then eventually, a pedagogy test in most states. And that's what it would be that you would get your fingerprints, you'd have to, you know, have clearance and all that, and then you can get into the teaching profession. And the testing is something that does hold up a lot of people.
Kevin: Is the testing outdated? Because many standardized tests...we've talked about the assessment process for even students that some of the tests could be racially biased, or they may be a little outdated. And for a lot of college students who've been through graduate programs, they're kind of on test overload. They're like, "Why am I taking another test?"
Dave: I think that's it. I mean, you're going through this program where you're being tested every step of the way and then somebody says, "Okay, but now you have to take another test to show that you learned something there." So yeah. In Florida, they have a general knowledge test. Well, you know, you went to college, you graduated from an accredited university, and now you're entering your program. But before you do, you have to go spend 100 bucks and go take a test to prove to me that you learned something in college.
So, you know, and then you've gotta take your subject matter test. There's another 100 bucks. And then you have to take your pedagogy test, and that's another 100 bucks. So it just starts to pile on, and I think a lot of teachers are saying, "No, I'm just not gonna do that." They look at all of those hurdles they've gotta get through and say, "No, that's not worth it to me."
Kevin: Well, there's gotta be a simpler way and talk about what you all offer at Teachers Of Tomorrow.
Dave: The first thing we do is we wanted to get rid of that cost barrier. So our program to get all of the pre-work that you need in order to get into and get your initial teaching license only cost $295. And that gives you your basic teaching skills. You still have to go take your test for another $100 and get your fingerprinting for another $50, but that's all it's gonna take to get you into teaching. And we also provide some test prep. We're gonna give you some help to make sure you get in there.
And I think that's why we have such a diverse group of teachers that are entering the profession. We've really lowered the cost. We made cost not a barrier. And then you don't owe us the tuition unless you actually get a teaching job. And then you pay the $4,000 in tuition over the first 10 months of your teaching career. But if you never teach, you never owe us the tuition.
So we've also taken that fear out, like, well, let me go explore this, see what teaching is about, you know, learn what it takes to be a teacher. And then if I opt out, I haven't lost, you know, a huge thing. I've not got this huge bill over my head that I've gotta pay. And then in your first year of teaching, we then provide a field supervisor that comes out and works with you, helps you along, you do more advanced teaching courses online. And at that end of that year, you're pretty much complete and you're a fully certified teacher. And during that year, obviously, you're getting paid as a full-time teacher.
Kevin: And where are you getting your applicants? Are they students in school? Are they people already in their careers and they wanna make a shift?
Dave: They're mostly career changers. So the average age is 32 that's going through the program. Like I said, 46% identify as non-white, 30% have a master's degree. These are people that have come to a point in their life and said, "Gee, I wanna go do something. I'm ready to give back. I wanna teach." But we also have retirees. We have 55-year-olds going through and, you know, they've retired. And they said, but I still wanna do something.
And then we also have kids that come...we had a teacher of the year last year and she had gone all the way through and started working, got a job in business and then said, nope, I'm switched and said I wanna go teach. So she went through our program, got a job that semester, and has just been a phenomenal teacher.
Kevin: You know, as I've been reading about some of these alternative certification programs, yours and others, one of the criticisms I read about was some of the, I guess, traditional purists say that you set the bar too low and that, you know, these aspiring teachers aren't getting all the developmental skills about teaching in the program. How would you respond to that?
Dave: Well, first off, the data doesn't support that. There have been now enough studies that have shown that teachers coming through, in particular, on our route, there was a UT study that looked at teachers coming through all the routes in Texas. And really what they found there was so much variation within programs you couldn't tell variation between programs. You know, the marketing person in me would say, there is no difference in the performance of the programs, and that really generally has borne out with the data.
Are there things that we could do, you know, if we had unlimited funds, like, you know, do more residency programs where our teachers would shadow another teacher for a longer period of time? Absolutely. But 90% of the people going through our program are holding down a full-time job while they're preparing to teach because they need the income. They can't just quit and take a year off, you know, not get any pay and do a residency.
So if somebody were to come up with the funds and say, look, we want you to, you know, team-teach with a great teacher. That would be a phenomenal way to do it, but that's just not practical when you're having to place 270,000 teachers a year in this country, it gets really expensive really fast.
Kevin: Now, Dave, you won't be surprised, I know we know each other a little bit that I just recoil at the one-size-fits-all. I just think that with something so important as molding, developing, placing, I mean, recruiting and placing America's teachers, we shouldn't have one entry path. And I think that part of the challenge we have is that we sort of fund a monopolistic system that stifles diversity, that stifles different perspectives. And it's the exact opposite of what we should be providing for potential teachers and the students that they serve.
Dave: Absolutely. You've got 3.5 million teachers in this country employed at any one time. And saying that there's only one way to train 3.5 million people is just, yeah, it's ludicrous. You need much more. And, you know, even when we go to a state and we're trying to do something new, the certification rules are so tight that we're really not doing anything that much...we can't innovate that much because the rules are so strict on what we can and cannot do. So they really have not allowed for a lot of innovation in the certification space.
Kevin: When you talk to superintendents or school board members around the country, and I'm not talking about Texas or Florida, or some of the states where there are robust alternative certification programs, but when you talk to some of these school leaders or educators in states where there aren't, what is their general resistance? What do they say? What do they point to in terms of why alternative certification programs don't work?
Dave: It's really not...the superintendents for by and large are just like, give me a high qualified person. I don't care where they came from. If I interview them and I think they're gonna be a good fit for that school, I'm hiring them. As long as they've got a license, I don't care where it came from. So it's really not the superintendents, it's really the decision-makers, the politicians, the statehouse, or the commissioners of education or the state boards of education that are reluctant to change.
And usually, it's because they've had such a great relationship with their higher ed folks. They don't wanna do anything to harm higher ed. But, you know, it's like you said, there is this perception that maybe it's lower quality, or maybe there's less retention, or it's gonna somehow harm the profession. But, you know, now All Cert has been around since 2000 and the profession has not been harmed by All Cert.
Kevin: It's fascinating it comes down to that expression, you know, people don't know what they don't know, but they're used to what they don't know. And it feels as if in this age where on the one hand innovation, creativity, the use of technology has exploded, on the other hand, that notion of the way we've always done things still dominates. And I'm glad you're bursting through. So, Dave, this is what I really want to know. How would you describe the real benefits to schools and students if more states implemented alternative certification programs?
Dave: That principal and that superintendent needs to find the best person for that classroom. And the school leaders that do a great job really wanna find the absolute best person that's going to fit in with that school and with those students. And so they need a choice of five, six, or seven candidates to really pick the right one. Right now, they're taking whoever walks in that door that's breathing and saying, "Okay, I guess I gotta take you." And they may know it's not gonna work out.
So they need great talent and they need a choice of talent to make sure they find the right person for those students. And that, as we all know, the studies say that may be finding a diverse teacher for a diverse classroom, and that's what alternative certification brings. And it brings somebody that's really gonna bring that content to life. And that's great to have a math department with somebody who's got experience in engineering, somebody that just came out of an ed school, and somebody that's been teaching for 20 years. Now you've got a great math department with a diverse set of views on how to teach math and develop math lesson plans, and that's gonna bring a more rich experience to those students.
Kevin: Dave Saba of Teachers Of Tomorrow, thank you for joining us on "What I Want to Know."
Dave: Thank you very much.
Kevin: Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review too. Explore other episodes and dive into our discussions on the future of education. I also encourage you to join the conversation and let me know what you want to know using #wiwtk on social media. That's #wiwtk on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know."
Meet Dave Saba
Dave Saba is the chief development officer at Teachers of Tomorrow, an organization changing the way teachers are trained and certified. Since its founding in 2005, Teachers of Tomorrow has put tens of thousands of new teachers into America’s classrooms.
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What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.