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Amanda Pasdon: Give our children the best in the classroom

West Virginia has long had the reputation as one of the most difficult states in the nation in which to become an educator.

While we want the best qualified educators for the children of our state, we have a certification process so narrow that, especially when coupled with low teacher pay, means that many promising teaching prospects pass us by.

The sad truth is that we have more than 700 vacancies in teaching positions today. That means students sitting on bleachers for entire class periods because they don’t have a teacher, test scores among the lowest in the nation and, worst of all, children who lack the skills to compete for jobs and pursue their full potential. The great frustration is that many of those positions could be filled by qualifed, engaged educators today if it weren’t for burdensome, outdated regulations.

On the House Education Committee, we have heard stories from across the state of the frustrations of administartators in trying to hire skilled educators who don’t meet the cookie-cutter definitions of current law. Here’s one: A man was volunteering his time at one of our high schools to teach French.

The children loved him and were thriving in his classroom. But he was informed he could no longer give up his own time in service of the students because he didn’t meet the requirements of the rules.

This is a man who served our country in the armed services, commanding troops, taught French and African Affairs as an Assistant Professor at West Point, currently is an instructor at Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and also holds a Ph.D in Education. He sounds more than qualified to help, especially where no career educator is available. But under our current state statute, he doesn’t make the grade, even as a volunteer.

I have a cousin who holds a doctorate in mathematics and has taught at the university and secondary school levels in other states. He is qualified to teach at West Virginia University or Marshall, but not in a West Virginia public school.

And we all know a recent retiree who would love to begin a second career that draws on their experience and provides a service to their communities, but because they’re unconventional, they are not allowed.

Where will we get the math and science teachers we desperately need if we shut out the experiences of those who have worked in West Virginia’s manufacturing sector?

In West Virginia, we currently have the highest number of teachers teaching outside of their degreed field of study than any other state in the nation.

We also have a massive shortage of educators and cannot fill currently vacant positions. Yet we slam the door to those who are highly qualified and hold degrees in subject field areas of critical need. This has to stop. Immediately.

We must seek to attract and retain the best and most qualified teachers in the field. To those that have stuck it out: We thank you. To those who have been shut out: We hear you.

Let’s surround this state’s children — our most precious asset — with the best, brightest and most qualified. We must open the teacher certification process to allow for these highly qualified individuals.

Whether it be eager new graduates seeking to become educators or second career professionals looking to give back to their communities through education, our children deserve the very best in the classroom. Let’s give them that.

Pasdon is a Republican delegate representing Monongalia County and chairwoman of the House Education Committee