Program Addresses Special Needs Teacher Shortage
A new program at Keene State College to certify special education teachers has proven so popular that applications are now being accepted on an ongoing basis.
In summer 2002, KSC introduced a post-baccalaureate certification program to train teachers for special education, to help address the shortage of these teachers in New Hampshire. A N.H. Department of Education school improvement grant funds the Special Education Teacher Shortage Response Project.
A swell in retirements, an increase in children with special needs, and burnout because of the demands of the job are among reasons for a critical shortage in special needs teachers in New Hampshire, according to educators at Keene State.
Such is the demand for special education teachers, that the N.H. Department of Education has allowed school districts to hire uncertified teachers - so long as they are currently enrolled in a collegiate certification program - under an emergency certification process called Alternative IV.
Alternative IV teachers and graduate education students enrolled last summer in the first year of the program, which is taught by Steve Bigaj, Nancy Lory, and Katie Ahern, faculty members in Keene State's education, special education, and early childhood education department. Enrollment for the 2005-06 year is almost full, says Steve. However, he is keen to keep the momentum of the program by receiving applications from eligible students throughout the year. Teachers who have regular education certification or graduate students who are seeking their initial education certification are welcome to apply to the program.
The Teacher Shortage Response Project comprises summer coursework and a ten-month, school-based internship with a mentoring teacher and weekly seminars at Keene State. Participants are expected to demonstrate their competencies throughout the year, through self-assessment and observations by KSC faculty and mentors. This year's participants served their internships or worked full-time in the Monadnock, Conval, Keene, Goshen-Lempster, and Fall Mountain school districts.
The program is designed to help prospective special education teachers get through their first year of teaching and to retain them for future years, says Steve. "First-year support is critical," he says, in an environment where resources are becoming increasingly limited. "One big question Nancy and I asked ourselves in designing this program was how do we help make the jobs and careers of these teachers manageable and successful?"
Nancy believes that the school districts will continue to struggle to find qualified special educators and, as a result, the education of students with disabilities is in jeopardy. "We need to find ways to support these teachers financially as well," she explains. "We are hoping that more scholarship support will be available from the state and federal government for these committed professionals who are willing to go the extra mile for students with learning differences."
For more information about the program, call Dr. Steven Bigaj at 603-358-2872.