OPINION | JOHNNY KEY AND BEN KUTYLO: The right tool
Like many other states across the country, Arkansas finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented shortage of teachers--especially in south Arkansas and the Delta.
Arkansans recognize the state's teacher shortage, and the question to which most want answers is this: "What is being done to ensure that every child in Arkansas has access to great teachers?"
For students to receive a great education, they need great educators. One powerful tool in the work of filling Arkansas classrooms with qualified teachers is the Teach Arkansas initiative.
In 2021, the Arkansas Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) partnered with Forward Arkansas to rebrand and launch a new campaign for Teach Arkansas. The campaign's goal is to identify and encourage future and existing teachers to enter and remain in the profession by providing the resources, guidance, and information they need to become educators or grow within the classroom.
There are two objectives. The first is to see more qualified, certified, and diverse teachers enter Arkansas classrooms, especially in the highest-need regions of the state. The second objective is to provide veteran and new educators with the resources they need to achieve their professional goals.
Last year, education nonprofit TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project) produced a report analyzing the Natural State's teacher shortage and offered guidance on how to address it. One of TNTP's recommendations was for the state to emphasize and clearly communicate the pathways for non-teacher school employees to become certified teachers, to improve awareness of existing teacher financial incentives offered by the state, and to create a virtual hub for those interested in becoming teachers to access helpful resources.
The new Teach Arkansas website--TeachArkansas.org--is that hub.
Through the website, high school and college students can connect with career coaches to explore educational opportunities, as well as find information on how to access financial incentives. Current teachers will have access to licensure advisers to help them identify professional development opportunities to grow their skills, certifications, and income. Also, professionals working in fields outside of education who have an interest in teaching can engage with career advisers to curate a pathway to the classroom.
A key aspect of the Teach Arkansas initiative is to not only fill more classrooms with qualified and certified educators but also to increase the diversity of the teacher workforce in Arkansas. According to TNTP's report, 40 percent of Arkansas students, but only 12 percent of Arkansas teachers, identify as people of color, and the gap is even larger in school districts with the most need for more teachers. Teachers represent one of the largest professional contingents in the state--therefore, building a more diverse teacher workforce translates directly to a more diverse workforce in general.
The new website will help achieve that objective. Upon navigating to TeachArkansas.org, visitors can access tools to help them explore various financial incentives offered by the state for current and future teachers, including grants, scholarships and loan repayment and forgiveness programs.
Visitors to the website also can learn more about the process of becoming a teacher by using the "choose your path to teacher licensure" tool. The tuition calculator makes planning a debt-free path to the classroom simple, and an interactive map of Arkansas shows current and future teachers the areas of the state most in need of qualified and certified teachers.
If you are already an Arkansas teacher, we'd like to express our gratitude for the investment that you make in the future leaders of our state every day.
If you are a student who is undecided on what to study, a non-teacher school employee who dreams of leading your own class, or a professional working outside education who is looking for a career change, please consider becoming an Arkansas teacher. Our children need you!
Johnny Key is secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education; Ben Kutylo is executive director of Forward Arkansas.