LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Teachers are a lifeline for preparing today's children for a life of success.
Fewer teachers are pursuing education right now, which leaders say is even more concerning in the middle of a pandemic.
"What we're seeing with the teacher shortage, what we're seeing with the substitute shortage, is a symptom of a broader set of issues that we've just failed to address," said University of Kentucky's dean at the College of Education, Julien Vasquez Heilig. He says in the '70s, teaching was one of the most popular majors.
"There just aren't enough incentives to go into education right now, relative to other fields," he said. "And it's coming to a head."
Vasquez Heilig says baby boomers are retiring, which contributes to the substitute shortage. State leaders say there's an issue with retaining teachers past two to seven years from when they start.
"What they have to do, is they have to find those incentives that inspire other students to go into education too," he said.
Katherine Rankin is a sophomore at UK studying middle school education.
"Until last semester, I never had a teacher of color," Rankin said. "So I think that would have been very helpful for me growing up and going through school emotionally and stuff just having someone who might have looked more like me or understood where I was coming from in certain things."
Rankin is one of the nearly 1,100 students at UK enrolled in the teacher prep program. She's aware of the shortage and knows it is not the most luxurious field financially.
"They're ridiculously important," Rankin said. "It's how everyone gets to where they're at. So I think really changing the stigma and obviously funding is going to be a huge part in that."
"Our teacher ed programs are slightly up, and I think that has to do with the fact that we've been thinking about how to appeal to this generation of students," Vasquez Heilig said.
Students like Rankin, recognize the need and want to be part of the solution.
"It's definitely concerning," Rankin said. "I think if anything, it makes me feel better about my decision to be a teacher because clearly there is a need for it."
Click here to see the requirements for emergency substitute teaching certification in Kentucky.
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