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UMaine addresses teacher shortage in new 'Why Teach' ad campaign

The ad first began airing during the Olympics. It features testimonies from current and past students about why they want to be a teacher.

ORONO, Maine — It's been deemed the "Great Resignation," a lack of workers affecting just about every industry, including education. 

The teacher shortage is a growing issue nationally and across Maine. In a new campaign released during the Olympics, the University of Maine works to address it. 

The commercial, called "Why Teach," features testimonies from current and former UMaine students about why they want to be teachers. 

SooZin Cha, a senior at UMaine, is one of the students featured in the commercial. In her final semester, she's fulfilling her student teaching requirements at Brewer Community School.

But, Cha said there were times when she had moments of doubt about her chosen career path during the pandemic. 

"Before this semester, I had felt similarly where I was looking forward to my future, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh. There's so much more that I have to do now,'" Cha said.

These days especially, teachers are earning every penny they make. With the added complication of adjusting to remote learning and eventually getting back into the classroom, reworking lesson plans has been a constant. 

"I think a big part of the reason that there aren't as many teachers right now is because they realize how exhausting it can be," Cha said.

Penny Bishop is the dean for the College of Education at UMaine. 

"Nationally, the numbers of people choosing to go into teaching preparation programs are down 30%, and that was before the pandemic," Bishop said.

Bishop said the school is doing its part to help encourage students into the teaching programs. The school has programs like the teacher leadership collaborative to give educators a sense of community. It is also working on its  "Grow Your Own" initiative to recruit and keep student teachers in Maine.

But, Bishop says a shift to address the industry's shortcomings, like increasing salaries and loan forgiveness programs, is still needed.

"When our students have to come out with the same sort of debt load as an engineer or as someone in business, and yet we know that the salary earnings will be pretty significantly different, we need to ask ourselves how we can reimagine that system," Bishop said.

Despite her moments of doubt, Cha said that her time spent working with middle schoolers this semester had given her a new perspective.

"This placement has really shown me that it's so much fun to be in the classroom, and I'm really enjoying what I'm doing," Cha said.

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