State of Emergency: The Good & The Bad

The saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, and here are two:

This graphic almost needs no explanation. The single statistic of emergency teaching certificates issued by the state Board of Education shows Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has grown at a phenomenal rate.

I have a spreadsheet that dates back to July 2012 tracking the number of emergency teaching certificates issued by month. The 818 emergency teaching certificates approved by the board at its June meeting is the third most approved in a single month by the state board.


But as someone who loves words more than pictures, I don’t think these images completely do the story of Oklahoma’s teacher shortage justice. In the nearly six years OSSBA has been closely tracking the state’s teacher shortage, a few truths have become crystal clear:

  • The shortage was years — if not decades — in the making.
  • Oklahoma owes a debt to those who sought emergency certification to fill gaps for our students and to the teachers and administrators who stepped up to help support them.
  • The statistics in the first few years we began tracking the shortage were staggering but also probably underestimated because of the number of teaching positions cut thanks to state revenue shortfalls.
  • Rebuilding the teacher pipeline is slow and painful work. Current data and that in near future may appear worse before it appears better. After consecutive years of new investment, school districts can restore cut teaching positions and/or create new ones. That’s a classic good news/bad news scenario.
  • It can take some time for full effect of new investment to become reality. It’s worth remembering that this time last year, the teacher pay raise was in doubt because of a court challenge.

Oklahoma school districts had about 1,100 more teachers during the 2018-2019 school year compared to the prior year, according to the state Education Department. That may partially explain the record number of emergency teaching certificates issued.

Throughout the shortage, local school officials have always had to make a tough call when they struggled to find a certified teacher: leave a position vacant or fill the position with an emergency certified teacher. The former means larger class sizes or reduced course offerings; the latter has its own risks (and possible rewards).

As my boss Shawn Hime pointed out in his conversation with the Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger, districts that choose to hire emergency certified teachers must work to provide them with much-needed support. In our five previous annual surveys of school districts on the teacher shortage, we’ve had an increasing number of superintendents report about partnerships and training they offer to inexperienced teachers, often regardless of whether their certification is traditional or emergency.

OSSBA will conduct its sixth annual survey of school districts on the teacher shortage in August. We’re hopeful that even if the survey results back up this month’s early indicator that we’re in for another record year of emergency certificates, the new investment will yield some positive news  and more momentum on which to build.

–Christy Watson
OSSBA Communications Director