This article first appeared in the Hobbs News-Sun.
America is now facing the greatest teacher shortage in history. As the country moves past the triage-stage of the pandemic and takes inventory of changes, public education was left with one of the greatest blows. In 2019, there were 644 teacher vacancies in New Mexico. Just two years later, in 2021, there were 1,048 vacancies. In addition, 25% of New Mexico teachers are over the age of 55 – the highest rate in the nation. In Lea County, all school districts are grappling with these shortages and an aging workforce. What can we do to help?
A teacher shortage means schools face teacher vacancies in critical bilingual education, STEM, and special education positions. Staff vacancies lead to overcrowded classrooms and teachers performing non-academic responsibilities. School leaders are forced to over-rely on substitute teachers who don’t have expertise in areas they’re tasked with teaching. For students, a teacher shortage means their dreams and full potential may never be reached. While the teacher shortage was certainly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a crisis before the pandemic and will continue to worsen if action isn’t taken.
The JF Maddox Foundation has been working for years to improve the teacher pipeline and ensure our students have access to the best and most dedicated teachers. For example, we recently worked with the University of the Southwest and all Lea County school districts to reduce the cost of tuition for potential students interested in teaching. By working with local partners, we ensure students have affordable access to higher education opportunities right here at home. This in turn makes them more likely to stay and teach in our schools.
In addition, we also provided a grant to help produce and secure talented, local educators through the Golden Apple Foundation, a new program to the state of New Mexico that recruits high school seniors and freshman and sophomore college students who have the determination and drive to be highly effective teachers in New Mexico K-12 schools.
The team at the Golden Apple Foundation has a proven track-record in the state of Illinois of developing teacher pipelines with prepared teachers who stay in the profession longer. In Illinois, close to 4,000 aspiring teachers have been recruited into the teaching profession and have a collegiate graduation rate that is double (82%) the graduation rate (40%) for New Mexico students.
All of these programs are available now for Lea County residents interested in teaching. The deadline for the Golden Apple Scholars program is June 10th and students interested in participating should apply at goldenapple.org/newmexico.
We are excited to continue our support for teacher pipeline programs for our community and will continue to focus on recruiting, preparing, and placing teachers in Lea County and the broader Southeast New Mexico region.
Mayra Lovas is a Senior Program Officer at the JF Maddox Foundation, a private family foundation in Lea County, New Mexico. Alongside its partners, the foundation invests in education, social services, and community development for a greater quality of life for Lea County residents.