Governor: We must strengthen teacher pipeline

Georgia’s Brian Kemp outlines the steps he plans to recruit and retain classroom educators
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to McEachern High School Principal Regina Montgomery and Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale during a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. REBECCA WRIGHT / FOR THE AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to McEachern High School Principal Regina Montgomery and Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale during a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. REBECCA WRIGHT / FOR THE AJC

In a guest column, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp expresses concern over keeping teachers in the classroom and outlines the steps he plans to attract more people to the profession and retain them.

One in 10 teachers quits after a year, and between 40 and 50% of new teachers leave within five years, according to University of Pennsylvania research. At the same time, fewer college students are enrolling in teacher prep programs. In 2012-13, 5,443 candidates completed teacher preparation programs in Georgia. In 2017-18, that number declined to 3,807.

With that background, here is the governor’s column. (Please note: Photo above of Kemp at a Cobb school last year with Superintendent Chris Ragsdale is pre-COVID-19 safety measure being imposed.)

By Brian Kemp

In my State of the State address, I told the people of Georgia our state is resilient. Without question, our educators, school staff, parents, and students have proven that resiliency throughout our fight with COVID-19.

I highlighted how we were proactive in easing the challenges educators faced in 2020, allocating $30 million to ensure student connectivity, reducing requirements on high-stakes testing, and providing PPE to support safe re-openings.

This year, my budget proposal includes $647 million to restore funding to schools, fully funds enrollment growth, and hold systems harmless for enrollment reductions – with $573 million allocated to continue those efforts in next year’s budget. While other states may face no other option but to slash education dollars, furlough teachers, and cut back on essential student programs, Georgia is restoring funding to schools, backing our educators, and launching initiatives to keep kids enrolled.

After soliciting feedback throughout our first two years in office, we must take meaningful steps to strengthen our teacher pipeline. My steadfast commitment to Georgia educators has been a top priority of my administration since Day One. Building on our significant achievements, this week my administration announced our “Teacher Pipeline” legislative package to recruit, prepare, mentor, and retain the best educators.

From Fort Gordon to Fort Benning, there is no shortage of dedicated, hardworking veterans in Georgia eager to serve their community. This package will strengthen the existing pathway for veterans to receive teacher certification, giving them priority enrollment for teacher preparation programs and ensuring continued mentorship and support in the classroom.

We must also focus on representation in the classroom. Our HBCUs play a major role in teacher preparation, and it is my belief we should work alongside them to ensure our teachers reflect our student population. With this legislative package, we are putting into law that the Professional Standards Commission must work with HBCUs through new, innovative programs to get more minority teachers into the classroom. We all remember a teacher who nurtured and inspired us, and we must do our part to ensure students from all backgrounds can see themselves in their education role models.

We will also lean on prior experience to fill classroom positions with well-equipped professionals by slashing red tape. Retired teachers have a wealth of experience in the field, and this legislation will allow them to come back to the classroom full-time to teach in high-needs areas.

As the dad of a future teacher, I have great appreciation for the importance of in-depth training for teachers to thrive in the classroom. The gap in teacher preparedness in differentiated instruction for English Language Learners, at-risk students, gifted students, and students with disabilities undermines aspiring classroom leaders and students alike.

Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady of Georgia Marty Kemp with their daughter and aspiring teacher Jarrett Kemp.

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Each year, we graduate new cohorts of teachers eager to enter the classroom, and we should leave no stone unturned to ensure their training equips them with the tools to reach every student – no matter their instruction level.

To do so, we will focus on preparation for future teachers, laying out five major focuses for fundamental reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

Increased attention to these areas at the university level will also help education students find success in the classroom.

Professional development and mentoring those new teachers are critical to their success. That’s why my Teacher Pipeline legislative package ensures school systems utilize current resources to coach and mentor new teachers, ensuring that observational resources are put to use where it can do the most good.

And when it comes to teacher retention, we know too many are leaving the profession because they are left out of decision making. My position as governor is clear: our teachers are heroes, and their voice deserves to be heard. Therefore, this package will tap the Georgia Teacher of the Year to serve as an ex officio advisor to the State Board of Education, providing valuable insight into how decisions affect the classroom.

The future of our state will be determined by our commitment to education. In Georgia, as long as I’m governor, we will put our hardworking students, teachers, school staff, and parents first.

We will continue to invest in critical resources for educational success. We will recruit and champion the best educators our state has to offer, and we’ll continue to lead the nation in preparing young learners to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century.