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The declining pipeline of educators-to-be has experts worried the teacher shortage will only get worse.

Bethany Coudriet spent her school career struggling with a learning disability in math that wasn’t diagnosed until she was 17.

A special-education teacher who was in her classroom to help another student noticed her discomfort and pushed the school to test her. Once Coudriet got help, she said, her math scores soared.

“That’s why I’m choosing to teach kindergarten-to-second-grade learning support,” said Coudriet, 21, a double major in special education and early childhood at East Stroudsburg University. “I want to be the teacher who catches that student before they get too far into their schooling.”

But there simply aren’t enough people like Coudriet who want to be teachers. East Stroudsburg, which was founded as a teacher preparation school more than a century ago, has seen a 27% drop in students studying to be teachers since 2011.

And the school is far from alone.

About this series
We know a lack of teachers strained so many schools this year, but we wanted to hone in on why it was happening, whether it was getting worse, and how it could be helped. In this inaugural story of an occasional series, we examine the pipeline problem, outline what experts say are red flags warning us of a greater crisis, and discuss the ways schools are trying to alleviate the most significant pain points.

If you’re a teacher, student, parent or administrator who has a story to tell about how the teacher shortage has impacted you or your school, please contact education editor Cathy Rubin at or staff writer Susan Snyder at

It’s been widely documented that the pandemic exacerbated problems teachers have long faced, whether low pay, lack of respect, or grim working conditions, contributing to staffing shortages in many areas of the country. In April, the nation’s public schools employed 7.7 million workers, down about 313,000 since the pandemic started in March 2020, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But there’s another looming crisis, experts say, evident in the so-called pipeline — those studying to be teachers: The number of people completing teacher education programs from 2011-12 to 2019-20 has slid 25%, according to the latest federal data.

And the plunge in Pennsylvania and New Jersey has been even steeper.

In 2019-20 in Pennsylvania, just 5,553 people completed teacher education programs, down 53% from 2011-12, and the number of in-state graduates who then go on to get their certification is even more startling: There were just 5,440 in 2020-21, according to state Education Department data, down from 15,031 a decade earlier. New Jersey has seen similar percentage declines.

Though experts have yet to get their arms around the full extent of the pandemic’s impact, red flags abound in area school districts:

This past school year, some saw surges in retirements and midyear exits. And a survey released in February by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, found that 55% of members were considering leaving the profession, up from 37% last August.

Administrators this year had to fill in as teachers, even at elementary schools, where the staffing pool is usually greatest.

“One day this year, myself and both of my assistants were teachers,” said Roger Pomposello, principal of the 1,200-student Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Monroe County.

What’s more, postings for jobs that once garnered a couple of hundred applications now are lucky to get 20. During winter break, Pomposello had an opening and got no applicants, finding someone only after seeking help from East Stroudsburg.

In the meantime, emergency certificates, granted for day-to-day substitutes and for extended teacher absences when a certified educator isn’t available, have risen exponentially in Pennsylvania, according to Ed Fuller, an associate professor in the education policy studies department at Pennsylvania State University.

» READ MORE: Where have all the substitutes gone? With pandemic protocols and low pay, fewer Philly-area educators are taking the risk.

For the first time, those full-time teaching positions and long-term substitutes on emergency certification surpassed the number of newly certified in-state teachers in 2020-21.

“This teacher shortage is real and is going to get worse,” Pomposello said.

Yet those with the most to lose aren’t administrators but students — and the teachers who remain.

For many districts, because specialists are often the first in line to cover gaps, children have gone without classes like art, music, or library.

Or, when teachers are out or vacancies go unfilled, teachers have to give up planning time to cover for colleagues, said John Sanville, superintendent of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District in Chester and Delaware Counties, addressing Pennsylvania’s House Education Committee at a public hearing in March on the teacher shortage. This past year, he couldn’t get a business and technology teacher and for months had to staff the class with a substitute not certified in those areas.

“That has not been a great situation for the students,” Sanville testified.

Sanville said later that he eventually was able to lure a certified teacher with better pay from another district — but that left that district with a hole to fill.

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The shortages are also more widespread: In the past, they tended to be concentrated in certain areas, like special education and the sciences.

“It’s a serious shortage across almost every subject area, even in elementary education, which typically has a huge oversupply of teachers,” said Fuller. “Who gets hurt the worst? The poorest districts, who in this state also serve the most kids in poverty and the most kids of color. They have the least ability to recruit and retain teachers, mostly because they don’t have enough money.”

Why is there a decline in teachers?

While there was a small uptick in those who completed teacher preparation programs nationally in 2019-20, there are no federal post-pandemic data yet to show whether that gain has stuck.

Reasons for the overall decline, experts say, are myriad.

Even before the pandemic, the number of high school students nationally was dropping, with a steeper drop forecast later this decade. That has translated to fewer students going to college: Enrollment nationally has fallen by more than a million from fall 2019 to fall 2021 alone.

» READ MORE: Penn State and Pa.’s public colleges are among the nation’s costliest — and are surprisingly empty | Debt Valley

The cost of higher education also poses hurdles, and Pennsylvania is near the bottom nationally in financial support to colleges, including those in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which have long supplied teachers here. The state meanwhile ranks near the top in student debt.

“We are really looking at decades of state disinvestment within higher education that basically have put institutions in the position where they have to pass more and more of the costs of attendance onto students and their families because the state is not subsidizing the publics at the same level,” said Tanya I. Garcia, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for postsecondary and higher education.

As the demographics of the population shift to include a larger proportion of people of color, the fact that very few go into teaching presents another pipeline problem, especially in Pennsylvania. While nationally the percentage of students of color in teacher preparation programs has grown — white enrollees dropped from 75% in 2010-11 to 65% in 2017-18 — Pennsylvania data show that candidates here remain overwhelmingly white.

More than 82% of teaching candidates were white in 2018-19, compared with 5% Black and 4% Hispanic. That’s due in part, some educators say, to the bad experiences students of color have suffered in schools, making them reluctant to return.

“That’s actually some of the conversations that we are having with some of our district partners: ‘Why would I want to go back and teach in a district that has disenfranchised me for the past 12 years?’” Desha Williams, dean of the college of education and social work at West Chester University, told legislators at the hearing. “I think that’s the real question that we need to address.”

Teaching requirements in Pa. and N.J. create barriers

If teachers with degrees or credentials from other states want to work here, they’re often tasked with duplicative requirements, some educators say. Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s “reciprocity” rules need revision.

Mike Lausch, superintendent of the Donegal School District in Lancaster County, said a school counselor who had trained and worked in New York for five years was required to take additional college credits to work in his district. And a special-education teacher from Maryland had to repeat her student teaching.

“You find a good candidate who is successful ... and then you incur these barriers that frustrate the candidates, frustrate the district,” he said.

But even those who train in Pennsylvania and New Jersey face obstacles. The road to a certification is filled with hurdles that some believe are burdensome and costly.

In Pennsylvania, students must have a 3.0 GPA at the 60-credit mark and maintain it to stay in teacher education programs, as well as pass basic skills tests in reading, writing, and math, called Praxis Core exams. While the GPA requirement is longer-standing, the testing was instituted in 2015 because too many education graduates weren’t passing teacher certification tests. (The Pennsylvania Department of Education said it couldn’t provide current data on pass rates.)

The three basic skills tests cost $90 each or $150 for all three. In addition, students later must pass Praxis content exams, which can run several hundred dollars, depending on their subject area.

“We’re taking all these studio courses, ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, and we pass those classes with flying colors, but we still need to be tested by another outside company?” said Eric Widing, an art education major at Rowan University in New Jersey. “It’s a lot of double work, and we get hit in the pocket.”

The transition from high school-level work to the faster-paced college environment can be challenging for any student, but if it’s enough to impact a student’s GPA early on, it can keep education majors out of a program, said Lynn Baynum, chair of the teacher education department at Shippensburg University. As for the basic skills tests, she said it would help if they weren’t timed, which creates unnecessary anxiety for students.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are two of only 15 remaining states that require basic skills tests, down from 25 in 2015. In the meantime, workarounds are in place, but results can be mixed.

Those with higher SAT and ACT scores can be exempt from basic skills tests, but that often leaves at a disadvantage students of color, who generally have scored lower on standardized tests, long criticized as biased against them.

Some Pennsylvania schools also have obtained permission from the Education Department for their students to forgo the tests if they get a B or better in certain subjects. And during the pandemic, the Education Department waived the tests for nine months, with encouraging outcomes. At West Chester, 75 additional students entered its program, about a 25% increase. At East Stroudsburg, 146 additional students moved forward, nearly a 150% increase.

“It’s a bit of a paradox,” said Baynum. “Pennsylvania wants to be among the best in the nation, but are our [requirements] also creating stumbling blocks?”

What about teachers already in the field?

Some question whether loosening requirements is the right focus.

“How low of a bar do we want?” asked University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll, an expert on America’s teaching force. “If you want to upgrade the pay and professional status of teaching, you’ve got to upgrade the entry standards, too.”

It makes more sense, some say, to improve teacher pay — beginning teacher salaries range from $35,000 to about $59,000 nationally, adjusted for the cost of living — and working conditions.

While the pipeline is a concern, said Pam Grossman, dean of Penn’s graduate school of education, solutions must address helping new teachers, 30% to 50% of whom leave within their first five years.

“If you lose them in those early years before they’ve had the chance to feel successful and then really have an impact on student learning, you really are affecting kids’ opportunities to learn,” Grossman said.

And they’re largely leaving because of working conditions, not because of failures in preparation, she said. Teachers in other countries, including Japan and Singapore, have much more time for planning in their workday, she said.

“What teachers are experiencing now in public education, it’s just not what we signed up for,” Vicki Truchan, a middle-school teacher in North Hills School District near Pittsburgh, told legislators at the hearing. “... It’s nothing short of demoralizing to realize the weight of everything that is already expected of us as educators only to be targeted further with new requirements and expectations, extreme scrutiny, and political scapegoating.”

Baynum, the Shippensburg professor, said one of her best students, who was passionate about teaching, posted on YouTube that she was leaving the profession after four years. And then on a university social media feed, other former students chimed in, saying they were frustrated, too.

“I just cried,” Baynum said.

That teacher, Shae Foreman, 27, had been working in Charleston, S.C., where her first year, she said she had a third grader come at her with a pair of scissors and a building administrator who offered little support. But she stuck it out and eventually got a more supportive principal. The pandemic, however, proved too much. At one point, she said she taught 60 second graders simultaneously, 30 in person and 30 virtually, while providing increasing support to struggling families.

“I felt like I could no longer do this job that I wanted to do to my best capacity, and it was very discouraging,” she said. “I was heartbroken.”

She left at the end of 2020 and posted the 35-minute video explaining her decision on Jan. 1, 2021.

She’s now working as a wedding and events planner.

Finding solutions to the teacher shortage

Colleges have been innovative in trying to help ease the shortage. They are instituting fast-track postbaccalaureate programs for current district substitutes, paraprofessionals, and others interested in becoming certified to teach.

They are partnering more closely with districts to find and encourage prospective teaching candidates.

Millersville University in May held a teacher shortage summit that drew about 100 school and college administrators and educators.

“It’s a watershed moment,” said Millersville professor Oliver Dreon, a summit organizer. “It’s a time where we have to come together and be creative and innovative. It’s going to require a lot of collaborative solutions.”

Educators proposed launching a public-relations campaign to improve the profession’s image; expanding dual enrollment programs like one at Temple University, which gives high school seniors interested in education careers college credits and mentoring; and a call for teachers to encourage students to follow in their footsteps.

“Encourage every teacher to find his or her replacement each year,” one participant suggested.

Rethinking the school calendar and workday and allowing for educators who want to teach part time also might attract more people, they said, as well as expanding the pipeline to older candidates who may want to shift careers.

Various proposed Pennsylvania legislation also is attempting to tackle the problem. One bill would place a moratorium on the basic skills tests and commission a study to determine its effectiveness. Another would ease reciprocity rules. Lawmakers also are looking at providing other financial support to attract more people to the profession, especially more candidates of color. That includes a proposal that would allow student teachers to be paid. New Jersey legislation would drop a residency requirement for teachers.

Noting Pennsylvania’s budget surplus, State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) said the time is right for the state to act on this pressing problem.

“We can move the needle and maybe even ... dramatically,” he said.

It’s critical, experts say, for schools to figure out how to hold on to enthusiastic teachers, like Naquasia “Nani” Dickerson, 27, an East Stroudsburg graduate, who student-taught at Pleasant Valley Elementary this past semester.

Before Easter, she donned a pair of bunny ears and joyfully hid Easter eggs on the playground for students.

“When I’m 76 and still teaching, I’m still going to wear my bunny ears,” said Dickerson, who recently accepted a teaching position in the Allentown district. “I want to make a difference in students’ lives.”

In the meantime, education schools report that more students are getting teaching contracts before they graduate, including Steven Delaporte, who majored in health and physical education at East Stroudsburg. Delaporte, 23, found out in early April that he got a job at the Denville Township School District in New Jersey. He started May 10, two days after he graduated.

“I was so excited,” he said. “My mom started crying.”

Rowan held its first ever teacher prep fair earlier this spring to assist students through background checks and the application process so they can substitute.

“It will definitely get my feet wet in the whole teaching field,” said Oscar Hu, a math major from Burlington County.

East Stroudsburg is reorganizing its course delivery this fall so students far enough along in their studies are free to substitute on Mondays and Fridays, high teacher absentee days.

Five student teachers who were based at Pleasant Valley Elementary this year began substituting over winter break. Four of them worked most of May, too.

“We made sure they were in rooms with lesson plans and good behavior management,” said Melissa Kern, a first-grade teacher and Pleasant Valley’s liaison with East Stroudsburg.

Pleasant Valley is one of the university’s professional development sites, where students are integrated in classrooms over two semesters and eventually go full time as a student teacher.

Kern said she made herself available to the students substituting, and Pomposello, the principal, gave them his cell number.

“Five years ago, I probably would have said, ‘I’m really not comfortable with that,’” Pomposello said. “Now, it’s like ...” He tapped his wrist as if checking for a pulse.

Students say serving as a substitute, which pays $160 a day at Pleasant Valley, has been invaluable.

“I’m getting the real hands-on experience that I sometimes wouldn’t get through student teaching,” said Jasmine Rivera, 23, who was substituting in a kindergarten class one day in April and now, having graduated, is substituting in Harrisburg.

The close relationship between East Stroudsburg and the school allows Pomposello to identify the best recruits for openings. It translates into jobs. Twenty percent of Pleasant Valley Elementary’s teachers went through the program.

Along with Pleasant Valley, the university has built relationships with 25 districts in the region, said Brooke Langan, dean of East Stroudsburg’s college of education.

“By the time they graduate, they have spent well over 1,000 hours in school communities,” she said. “Principals tell us our students come out almost like first-year teachers.”

Recently, a second grader solidified for Coudriet, the student whose math disability wasn’t diagnosed until high school, her desire to become a teacher.

“He said, ‘Thank you, Miss Coudriet, for teaching me math, how I need to learn math,’” she said.

But she needs to look no further than her family to see how that fire can burn out. Her older brother just quit teaching to go into the Air Force.

“He loved teaching,” she said, “but he says he needs a break.”

Staff contributors
Reporter: Susan Snyder
Photojournalists: Jose F. Moreno and Monica Herndon
Editor: Cathy Rubin
Digital Editor: Felicia Gans Sobey
Digital Photo Editor: Rachel Molenda
Graphics Editor: John Duchneskie