In 2015, Nabaa Alobaidi resettled in Portland, Maine, having fled her home in Iraq as a refugee. With a master’s degree and experience practicing interior design and teaching at the university level, she hoped to continue her craft and her love of teaching. At a time when schools across the country are facing chronic teacher shortages—a deficit heightened in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic—internationally trained immigrants and refugees like Nabaa who are interested in teaching are a key source of educational talent that would ensure a more inclusive and robust teacher workforce.
Teacher Shortage and Impact
According to a 2022 study from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, school districts across the United States had at least 36,000 vacant teaching positions. As of the 2022/23 academic year, Maine’s K-12 schools are experiencing teacher shortages in early childhood education, special education, elementary education, mathematics, language arts, and science, among several other subjects.
In addition to facing teacher shortages, the teacher workforce in school districts across the country does not reflect the demographic makeup of increasingly diverse student bodies. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 80 percent of public school teachers are White, at a time when fewer than 50 percent of students are White. Yet numerous studies have shown that a racially diverse teacher workforce has a significant positive impact on the academic performance of all students, especially students of color. In Portland, the public school system illustrates this disparity: Although nearly half of Portland’s public school students are students of color, 90 percent of the district’s educators are White.
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