Mason committed to reducing Virginia’s teacher shortage

Mason mathematics education professor Jennifer Suh teaches EDCI 552 Mathematical Methods for the Elementary Classroom, which helps students develop mathematics teaching practices and increase their knowledge and skills. Photo by Creative Services.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia must fill about 2,000 teaching vacancies a year, George Mason University associate professor Roberto Pamas said.

That is why Pamas is so excited about TEACHERTrack @ Mason, a new program in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) that aims to help mitigate the teacher shortage by encouraging junior and senior high school students in Northern Virginia to embrace teaching as a profession.

“We feel it is our duty to make sure we are preparing the next generation of teachers for our students,” said Pamas, director of TEACHERTrack @ Mason and the former principal of O. W. Holmes Middle School in Fairfax.

TEACHERTrack @ Mason, launched in the Fall 2019 semester and hosting a Welcome Event on Nov. 13, is just one of several initiatives Mason and CEHD have undertaken to address Virginia’s teacher shortage.

Mason is one of the first public institutions in Virginia to offer four-year undergraduate degrees in teacher preparation in elementary education, special education and childhood education for diverse learners.

And CEHD Dean Mark Ginsberg, through EdPolicyForward:The Center for Education @ George Mason University, is leading an exploration for the commonwealth about the causes of and possible solutions for the state’s teacher shortage. Also part of that working group are associate professor Spiros Protopsaltis and Mason research assistant and Fairfax public school teacher Lindsay Willmann.

Participating in the project, funded by the provosts of Virginia’s state universities, are representatives of the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), as well as leaders from community colleges and other four-year, university-based teacher preparation programs.

“It’s kind of a blueprint,” Ginsberg said of the report delivered in September. “We have an ambitious plan. Now we have to find out who will help build out identified solutions, including finding the necessary funding to address the critical issues for the state and nation.”

TEACHERTrack @ Mason is currently focused on ensuring high school counselors and career specialists know Mason offers a quicker path to teacher preparation degrees, Pamas said.

The plan, though is much broader. Pamas said a dual-enrollment program could be set up in the near future. That way, high school students can take courses in Mason’s teacher preparation program that can be applied to their formal enrollment into the university or Mason’s ADVANCE Program with Northern Virginia Community College, which streamlines paths to a four-year degree.

Scholarships could also be available, Pamas said, “so students can see this is actually valued.”

“Our job is not only to recruit the students and then train them,” Pamas said. “We want them to go into the profession and stay.”

As for the broader statewide view of his report to the commonwealth, Ginsberg recently met over a three-day period with Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, representatives of community colleges and Virginia’s public universities that offer teacher preparation programs, and members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff.

He said his group is also working with Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Community College System and SCHEV.

“The teacher shortage is ubiquitous,” Ginsberg said. “This is our attempt to create a sense of community and a sense of engagement and participation among students who aspire to a career in education.”