As teachers and school administrators across America work to recover from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering stress and staff shortages, University of Maryland students are stepping into the classroom with a definite sense of mission.
The College of Education held a new ceremony on Friday for the 222 undergraduate and graduate students who are beginning yearlong internships at local schools. Each attendee received a pin with the college’s name and logo, in the same spirit of events elsewhere for nursing students.
“There is no grander challenge than ensuring every child … has access to high-quality education,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice, who spearheaded the ceremony’s creation while dean of the College of Education. “That starts with access to high-quality and diverse educators.”
The UMD students will be working in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s county schools in elementary, middle and secondary education, as well as early education and early special education. Once they complete the program, they will be eligible for initial teacher certification in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as U.S. territories.
The ceremony “symbolizes the contribution they are making to the world,” said Ebony Terrell Shockley, executive director for educator preparation. “We intend for it to signal that they are welcome, they are supported and they have a network.”
Added Dean Kimberly Griffin, “We want society to recognize educators and the importance of the path they’ve chosen.”
While researchers have struggled to gather reliable data on just how widespread teacher shortages are throughout the country, 72% of principals and education officials said in a summer Education Week survey that they did not have enough applicants to fill their open positions. Studies have found that many of the job losses among school support staff from spring 2020, when COVID shuttered schools, have not been recovered, with K-12 employment levels still about 4% below pre-pandemic levels. Districts in states such as Missouri, New Mexico, Idaho and Texas have moved to a four-day schedule in an attempt to recruit more teachers, and federal education officials are encouraging schools to partner with recruitment firms, subsidize training and increase salaries.
In Maryland, a July report from the State Department of Education said that statewide teacher vacancies increased from around 600 at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year to more than 1,600 in 2021-22—Prince George’s County, for example, saw its number skyrocket from 50 to more than 400 during that timeframe.
Maryland Sen. Paul Pinsky, who was a teacher for more than two decades, encouraged the aspirants to be open to and solicit feedback, as well as to build relationships with students and their families.
“I want to thank you for committing to this,” Pinsky said. “The kids need it for a functioning society.”
Rachael Termini, a senior from Germantown, Md., will do her internship at High Point High School in Beltsville. While aware of the macro-level conversations taking place in American education, she said her mission as a teacher will focus on how she can help the students sitting in front of her.
“I was always one of those students who really loved being in school,” she said. “You need to go into it with a positive mindset about all the change you can create.”
The pandemic presented an opportunity for teachers, students and parents to learn how to better communicate and understand each other, said Sydney Manning, a senior from Denver, Colo., who will be interning at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi.
“We are seeing less of a stigma with mental health and more opportunities for students to express themselves and be more confident in their identities,” she said. “That’s definitely something I want to replicate.”
Termini said the pinning ceremony was also a good way to show how teachers provide “essential services” just like medical professionals.
“It’s nice to have that acknowledgement that we are really trying to contribute something good to society,” she said.