The number of Connecticut students and professionals choosing teaching as a career path has been on the decline, and the percentage of early career educators leaving the profession remains high. CEA spoke with aspiring and early career educators about their challenges, their hopes for the profession, and concrete ways to curb the teacher shortage. Here are their perspectives.
Laura Caserta, 2nd Year Elementary Teacher, High Horizons, Bridgeport
Working in Bridgeport, we’re severely underfunded, and a big problem that comes with that is I don’t have enough resources for my social studies and science curriculum. That’s tricky when you’re trying to give students a hands-on learning experience, so it’s really just me and my grade partner trying to find materials and sharing materials to keep our students learning and engaged.
Katie Brush, Aspiring Educator
I have faced some challenges on the road to certification—mainly the testing requirements. Not only are the tests costly, but they are long and strenuous, and some of them do not cover topics I will be teaching my future students. We also have lesson plans that are not the format we will use when we become teachers. I think if some of these hardships were addressed, it would make becoming a teacher more manageable, and maybe more people would consider it.
Esther Peterson, 5th Year Social Studies and English Language Arts Teacher, Killingly Intermediate School
I am an older new teacher, with a master’s degree in elementary education, and I do get concerned about a couple of things. The first is the number of years I have to work to collect my pension. The second is realizing what my salary averages out to on an hourly basis, as I usually work 10 to 12 hours a day, plus weekends. I believe teachers are the most underpaid when you consider the education we must have in order to do our jobs.
Vanessa Fasanella, 2nd Year Math Teacher, Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School, Bridgeport
I love my job, I’m happy to come to work every day, and I’ve never considered leaving. Connecticut is a great state to teach in—but it’s difficult to get certified here if you are changing careers or transferring from another state. Clearer certification rules, student loan debt relief, and higher teacher salaries should lead the list of things elected officials focus on. More affordable health insurance and better tax laws would also help. Fears about school shootings, including active shooter drills, and getting sick with COVID, flu, strep, and more, are things that really weigh on teachers. Also, many teachers love their jobs but can’t afford to stay financially, emotionally, or both. I faced challenges in pursuing my degree in education as an adult who worked full-time and had children. My time at the University of Bridgeport was the hardest year of my life, and I am still paying off that student loan debt.
Kate Cummings, Aspiring Educator
Some of the challenges I’ve faced in my journey to becoming an educator include completing edTPA and the burden of unpaid student teaching. As a senior at CCSU and a student teacher in a second grade classroom, I was paying tuition to be a full-time student, while also being responsible for paying for my certificate exams and edTPA, which totaled over $500. Teaching is already an underpaid profession, and student teachers have to pay tuition, transportation, rent, groceries, and fees for exams on a student teacher’s salary—which is no salary. For five months, aspiring educators get paid nothing for working a full-time job while still having bills to pay. I, and many other aspiring educators, work a job outside of student teaching to afford to live. The fact that student teachers work a full-time, unpaid job and pay excessive test fees deters a lot of potential candidates from this profession.
Victoria Esser, 2nd Year Family and Consumer Science Teacher, Stonington High School
Curriculum resources and development are lacking. As the only family and consumer science teacher in my building, opportunities to collaborate with colleagues are few and far between, and professional development is not often relevant to me. I also feel the financial burden of a salary that has not kept pace. How do I make a living on this wage? I am looking at starting a second, part-time job.
Laurie Garwood, 2nd Year Teacher, CREC River Street Autism Program, Bloomfield
I have a classroom of five students. They’re all one-to-one, so we’re a support program, and the biggest challenge is finding the time to meet all our expectations. Each of our students has an individualized education plan, and we don’t have a set curriculum ready to use; we have to figure out what works best for individual students. I am absolutely working nights and weekends.
Holly West, 7th Year Elementary Teacher, Winthrop School, New London
I have definitely considered leaving the profession, especially after my first couple of years. I’ve now been teaching seven years, and I sometimes look at folks who have left the profession with envy. Teaching in a post-pandemic world is an entirely new beast, and those who have since left teaching seem to live a much more balanced and healthy life in other careers. Higher salaries for teachers would make a great difference, and lowering the cost of certification and tests would decrease barriers to entry or re-entry.
Mikeya Stovall, 7th Year Elementary Teacher, Read School, Bridgeport
Competitive salaries for educators are definitely a top priority, and Connecticut legislators should explore quality affordable housing for teachers. For educators, especially those working in priority districts with the lowest wages, securing housing is extremely difficult. In Bridgeport and our surrounding cities in Fairfield County, most of the housing developments being built are luxury apartments costing an entire pay period of net income for teachers on the bottom half of the salary scale.
Karen Adrian, 3rd Year English Language Arts Teacher, CompSci Middle School, East Hartford
Aspiring teachers need to have a bachelor’s degree, take the Praxis I and Praxis II, complete student teaching experience, and complete TEAM. All of these expectations are costly and hinder the availability of people of color who want to become teachers but are often financially limited. There aren’t enough programs to support them, except for loans, and that doesn’t solve the issue.
In order to retain teachers, funding should go toward providing special education students with the support they need. We need more special education services, more interventionists for reading and math programs, and more restorative personnel and family liaisons. When students have the supports they need, teachers overall will feel less stressed.
Marlee Greenlaw, Aspiring Educator
There are many hurdles to overcome to get into the profession. In my experience at CCSU, I have had to bear the financial burden of testing for both Praxis and the Foundations of Reading test. As an elementary education major, I am required to take more tests than some other education majors, making the cost of my schooling higher. Test fees must be paid upfront and out of pocket by students, and schools offer little or no help with that. We are also responsible for paying for fingerprinting for our internships and student teaching placements. Sometimes the price for this is not a huge deal, but other times we are paying around $90 to go into one elementary school for a semester or about 10 weeks, and then paying again the following semester. These fees are not made known ahead of getting into education programs and are all on top of university tuition.