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Bridgeport Teacher Testifies Before Congress on How to Stop the Teacher Shortage

Bridgeport teacher Michael Brosnan testified before joint Congressional subcommittees today.

Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest school district, serving more than 23,0000 students, but the Bridgeport Public Schools have an annual teacher attrition rate of 10-12 percent. Today Bridgeport teacher and early leadership institute coach Michael Brosnan told members of Congress that, “While welcoming fresh faces each year, or in the middle of each year, was certainly a pleasure, it did little for school stability or student achievement.”

Brosnan was speaking at a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment titled Educating our Educators: How Federal Policy Can Better Support Teachers and School Leaders.

“We’re plagued by perpetual underfunding and that means we face many obstacles. Recruiting teachers and retaining them is one of them,” Brosnan said.

He told members of Congress that there are a variety of barriers keeping young people from entering the teaching profession, and the cost of the multiple degrees teachers must earn to maintain their certification is high on the list. Saying it is vital to protect federal programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness, Brosnan said such programs were incentives to him as a early career educator to stay in the profession.

Despite promises made to teachers, only one percent of applicants who have followed the criteria and applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness have had their applications approved.

“I have received inquiries from three of my colleagues whose loan [discharge] applications were denied,” Brosnan said.

Congressman Joe Courtney says he has received numerous calls from teachers about problems with federal loan programs, including one from a Coventry teacher who only had her loan successfully discharged after nearly a dozen tries.

“Streamlining and making the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program actually functional should be one of the focuses of HEA [Higher Education Act] reauthorization,” Courtney says.

Brosnan wishes more of his students, who are overwhelmingly students of color, would consider a career in education.

“I have had students who would have been wonderful teachers and hopefully will one day become teachers, but what they’ve experienced in their own schools has not sold them on the profession,” Brosnan says. “The revolving door of school administrators, violence, under funding, poor salaries, visible lack of support, crumbling facilities—it isn’t necessarily surprising that, despite my enthusiasm, students see the tremendous demands on educators and the difficult working conditions and would rather seek a different career.”

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes spent her last four years in the Waterbury schools working to attract more teachers of color to the profession. Many teachers of color, like Hayes, are the first in their families to become teachers. “As we have to attract these first generation teachers we need to change the conversation,” Hayes says.

It’s not just about enrolling more students of color in teacher preparation programs. Even after teachers start their first teaching jobs Hayes says it’s important to look at, “How do we continue to support people after we get them into these communities?”

Brosnan says increased support and mentoring are vital to keeping new teachers in the profession.

“Mentoring is worth it—especially paired with the evidence that mentorship reduces the attrition rate of high-quality teachers, which tends to be disproportionately higher in hard to staff urban districts,” Brosnan said. “Bridgeport, like many urban districts, benefits from Title II-A funding that supports the development and retention of highly qualified teachers and principals. This investment in our instructional faculty not only addresses the staffing needs of districts, but has a clear impact on student achievement. I would urge you to fully fund Title II-A –for the benefit of dedicated educators and for the benefit of our nation’s children.”

Watch video of the entire hearing here.

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