Teaching is always an in-demand profession, but the Alabama teacher shortage is particularly troubling. The retirement rate for teachers is continuously steady while the turnover rate becomes higher. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these rates have become especially alarming.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of available high school teaching jobs countrywide to rise 8% and create more than 78,000 new positions by 2030. However, some areas have a much higher demand for new teachers.
According to Marketwatch’s Jacob Passy, “Back in 1975, more than one-fifth (22%) of college students majored in education — a higher share than any other major. By 2015 though, fewer than one in 10 Americans pursuing higher education devoted their studies to education.” Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Education has observed a decreasing number of teaching degree graduates in the state. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this decrease grew to 40%.
The Alabama Political Reporter reports that 123 Alabama school districts began hiring teachers with provisional teaching certificates in 2021 due to a shortage of nearly 3,000 math and science middle and high school teachers alone.
Across the country, teachers have been rallying for greater support, higher pay and more generous legislation from state and local governments. In response, Gov. Kay Ivey signed Act 2021-330 in May 2021, establishing new incentives for those who pursue in-demand teaching roles, including a 2% pay increase for all teachers and the potential for a salary increase of up to $20,000 for math and science teachers.
Specializations in Need
Certain specializations in the teaching field are more in need than others. Here are some examples of specializations that frequently experience shortages:
Special education teachers work with students who have a range of disabilities and disorders. In addition to teaching academic subjects, they may also teach basic skills like communication and life skills. According to the BLS, the median pay for teachers in this role in 2020 was $61,500, and the BLS predicts an increase of 8% in employment by 2030. Some subspecialties in special education require additional training and certification.
Also called instructional coordinators, teacher leaders oversee curricula and teacher standards in the school. They develop instructional material and often serve as a liaison between teachers (a department, for example) and the administration. Teacher leaders tend to have a measure of seniority and typically a master’s degree or more. The median pay for a teacher leader in 2020 was $66,970, and the number of teacher leader jobs is expected to grow by 10% by 2030.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers are in high demand. Often these teachers work in teams. Early childhood teachers teach all the basic subjects—like math, science, reading and writing. Some early childhood teachers specialize in a subject, like art, and serve the whole school. In 2020, the median income of a kindergarten or elementary school teacher was $60,660,according to the BLS.
High School Specializations in Demand
As previously mentioned, some specializations have a higher demand than others. Alabama students who prepare for the following specializations can typically walk out of graduation with a teaching contract in hand.
The 2021 median annual salary for teachers in Alabama is $55,953. Subject-matter teachers tend to work 10 months out of the year. Most teachers are expected to devote some time to professional development and classroom/curriculum prep during the summer months.
The following subject matters are the most in demand:
Are you passionate about sports? Are you interested in helping others live a healthy lifestyle? Respond to the Alabama teacher shortage by becoming a PE teacher. The state is known for its passion for high school and college sports. Many PE teachers also coach sports teams and are expected to give lessons on health and hygiene.
Math and Science
Teachers specializing in STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering—sometimes the arts—and math) subjects are expected to be some of the highest in demand as technology and science rapidly evolves. STEAM subjects include math at all levels, chemistry, biology, computer science, physics, statistics, and fine arts.
Social science teachers teach classes that study human society and social relationships. Those classes include economics, history, politics, psychology, geography and others.
To be a teacher in Alabama, you need a bachelor’s degree and certification that involves coursework and student teaching.
Teacher testing in Alabama is handled by the Alabama Educator Certification Assessment Program (AECAP). Three basic skills assessments (applied mathematics, reading for information, and writing) and the Praxis II exams for subject proficiency are required. There are over 90 different tests ranging from agriculture to world languages. If you test in Alabama, your score report will be automatically sent to the state department of education.
The Importance of a PE Teacher
Teaching students how to care for their bodies with good nutrition, regular activity, good hygiene and other self-care strategies is becoming increasingly important in this age of rising childhood obesity and screen time replacing playtime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates for U.S. children and adolescents have more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2017–2018 show that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people (2 to 19 years old) in the United States has obesity.
The organization identifies the following main causes of childhood obesity:
- Metabolism—how your body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use.
- Community and neighborhood design and safety.
- Short sleep duration.
- Eating and physical activity behaviors
The CDC also recommends that schools develop a policy that students get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, but the “death of recess” is happening all over the country with recess time being eroded by the demand for time to prep for standardized tests.
So, with recess disappearing, PE class may be the only consistent opportunity that students have for regular rigorous activity. In class you can help them offset the hours spent on computers and phones and teach them the benefits of teamwork and sportsmanship.
Most PE programs are about more than fitness and sports. Nutrition, sex education, and even mindfulness are other subjects covered in gym class.
Physical activity has proven to reduce stress. As students are increasingly pushed to perform on standardized tests and are given copious amounts of homework, the outlet provided in gym class could be a welcome chance to unwind a bit.
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Physical Education Teacher Duties
PE teachers in elementary school teach activities that will help the growing children improve coordination, teach teamwork, inspire a love of physical activity and sports, and teach good habits.
PE teachers of older students tend to work as part of a department where each teacher has different skills and experience. So, rather than teaching general sports and fitness, you’d be teaching those sports and skills that are your choice, strong point or assignment. Many teachers also serve as a coach of school sports. Academics of health and nutrition also factor in to older students’ PE education.
All PE teachers work with administrators to implement school policies and procedures. They also communicate with parents when there are questions or concerns about a student’s work in class.
The role of a PE teacher is important beyond the field or gym because studies have proven that active students are better students. After 20 minutes of physical activity, students tested better in reading, spelling and math. Students with regular physical activity are 20 percent more likely to earn an A in math and English.
With the “death of recess” it’s possible that for some students, PE class is the only time they are active, including students who do not live in safe neighborhoods or who are over-scheduled with sedentary activities.
Payscale reports that the median pay for a PE teacher is $46,453 nationwide.
Job alternatives for physical education teachers include:
- Exercise physiologist
- Recreational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Nutrition and health technician
- Athletic trainer/gym instructor
- Home healthcare aid
- Fitness trainer
- Aerobics or kinesiology instructor
A Credentialed PE Teacher
Many schools hire PE teachers with a background in education but not one that specializes in PE. Or they repurpose a classroom teacher to serve as a PE instructor.
However, bachelor’s and master’s degrees specifically targeted to physical education are available. In those programs, you will learn the latest in educational theory, best practices and curriculum planning. Also included are courses on first aid and safety (in the gym and on the playing field), health, psychology and educational development, and special education.
Traditionally in Alabama, you are required to have a teaching certificate and a teaching license that must be renewed every five years.
A PE teacher must be well-versed in the four content standards that the Alabama Department of Education established in 2009:
- Skill Development: Demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform physical activities
- Cognitive Development: Demonstrates an understanding of movement concepts, principle strategies, and tactics in relation to the performance and learning of physical activities
- Social Development: Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior and values physical activity for challenge, social expression, enjoyment, health, and self-expression
- Physical Activity and Health: Participates regularly in physical activity and achieves a health-enhancing level of physical fitness
Bridging the Gap: Technology and Special Education
Every student can benefit from a personalized approach to their education, especially for special education services. Technology is now making it easier for teachers and students to deliver an education that works with each student’s unique needs.
Nationwide, the number of 6- to 21-year-old students classified as having autism rose 165% between the 2005–06 and 2014–15 school years, according to EdWeek.
Students with other health impairments—a category that can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, health issues such as epilepsy or mobility impairments, or mental health issues such as bipolar disorder—increased by about 51% over that same 10-year span.
Those two categories now account for a little more than 1 in 5 school-age children covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act nationwide.
At one time, autism was considered a “low incidence” disability, John Eisenberg, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Student Services at Virginia Department of Ed told Edweek. Now, those students make up the fourth-largest disability category in the state.
“What we’re seeing is that about half of that population are kids with pretty severe disabilities, major behavior issues, medical issues. They’re probably some of the most complicated issues that school divisions face,” said Eisenberg, who served as president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “The costs associated with educating kids with disabilities has significantly increased.”
The 2020 median pay for special education teachers was $61,500
Differentiated learning, which allows a student with special needs to remain in a mainstream classroom, is increasingly made possible with advancements in technology.
According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classes with the use of technology has positive outcomes for the students, typically. “These capabilities allow students with special needs to learn without a special curriculum. They can consume — and learn — the same materials as their peers, which helps prepare them for the same assessments. Additionally, being on the same timeline and curriculum as their peers can help ensure that students with special needs develop positive self-esteem and the skills they need to succeed after graduation.”
Technology and Special Education
Many web browsers have text-to-speech capabilities. Text-to-speech is helpful for those who are blind or have low vision and for a variety of other learners, including those who struggle with decoding and those who prefer to listen to audio.
They can also be helpful for students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, that slow them down as readers and make them fall behind in their classwork.
Some nonverbal students can also use text-to-speech to communicate.
On the other end of the spectrum from text to speak, many programs allow you to dictate content while the program transcribes your words. These programs would be helpful for a student with motor skills impairment, for example, and any other disability that prevents a student from using a typewriter or pen.
. . . integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classes with the use of technology has positive outcomes for the students
Adaptive apps paired with tablets can help students communicate and learn. They’re highly portable, lighter than most laptops and usually less expensive than a laptop, too.
The ISTE blog described how a tablet helped a nonverbal third-grade student named Lilly finally attend classes with other third-graders.
“In one of our introductory meetings with Lilly, my colleague Rachael sat next to her with an augmentative communication system on a tablet, demonstrating to the family how we might be able to support Lilly’s communication,” Robin Pegg, assistive technology consultant at Eaton Regional Education Service Agency, told the ISTE. “Lilly was craning her neck, trying to see what Rachael was doing. Rachael then handed Lilly the device, and in that first meeting, Lilly created sentences. Nobody knew she could do that.”
Nowadays, classrooms are no longer restrained to schools. You can have a classroom anywhere you have an internet connection. In 2020, schools temporarily transitioned from physical classrooms to virtual learning environments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, students with disabilities that cause them to miss school have been utilizing virtual learning tools long before the risk of COVID-19. Whether using Skype to join their class live, watching videos of missed lectures or using dedicated software for distance learning, students who have to learn from home or a hospital can still stay on track with their education through educational technology.
The Alabama Department of Education’s Office of Teaching and Leading provides information about the requirements for working as a special educator in Alabama. The ALSDE requires teachers to have completed a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program, which they can do concurrently at select institutions. All degrees and certificates earned must be from accredited institutions.
According to the BLS, the 2020 national median pay for special education teachers was $61,500, and there will be an increase of 8% in employment by 2030.
Some subspecialties in special education have additional training and certification requirements.
Starting or continuing your education career
Advance or start your teaching career with a fully online teaching degree from the University of West Alabama. Develop the skills and knowledge you need to change your teaching focus or to start work in one of these in-demand teaching specialties in a convenient online format. Degrees offered online include M.A. Teaching, M.Ed. High School Education, M.Ed. Physical Education and M.Ed. Special Education, among others.