Teaching Profession

In Absence of Qualified Teacher, Maine High School Turns to Software Program

By Madeline Will — September 19, 2016 2 min read
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Can computer software programs be a solution to a lack of qualified teachers?

At Madison Area Memorial High School in Maine, administrators could not find a foreign language teacher to teach students French and Spanish. So instead of canceling the classes, they bought the computer program Rosetta Stone to serve as the teacher.

An education technician will supervise students and oversee the program’s administration, the Morning Sentinel reported.

While Rosetta Stone is used in more than 4,000 schools across the country, according to the Morning Sentinel, it is usually used in conjunction with an actual teacher. School administrators praise the program for its flexibility and how it lets students work at their own pace or return to lessons they struggled with.

Still, educators say students can’t ask a computer specific questions about word meaning and grammar, and a computer program can’t help students understand the culture of the language and relate it to their own lives.

“It’s hard to replace having a real person there to help students when they are struggling or to make the learning relevant to their lives,” said Principal Jessica Ward. “Yes, they are learning the language with the Rosetta Stone program, but I worry that they are missing out on the cultural education and the personal touch of having a real teacher available.”

The Morning Sentinel reported that Maine has faced a shortage of foreign language teachers since the mid-1990s, particularly in rural districts. This has also been an issue across the country, as teacher-preparation program enrollments have declined and certain areas are struggling to recruit teachers, particularly in math, science, and special education, and for English-language learners.

Just last week, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that said the United States had a shortage of 60,000 teachers, which could grow to 112,000 teachers by 2018. Also last week, the Center for American Progress released a data analysis of teacher-preparation programs, reporting that from the 2009-10 school year to 2013-14, there was a 36 percent decline in teacher preparation programs.

In Maine alone, teacher-preparation enrollment declined 33 percent in that time period.

Still, Ward told the Morning Sentinel that she hopes to hire a living, breathing foreign language teacher by next year, no matter how successful the Rosetta Stone program is. “This wasn’t perfect, but it was the best option to move our students forward this year,” she said.

Source: Getty Images

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.