PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (PDE) has said that teachers are now spending less time waiting for their certificates and more time in the classroom.

The Department of Education said since 2022, they have reduced wait times for in-state certificates by more than two months. It is one of many steps they are taking to try and address Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage.

“We want them in the classroom as soon as they can possibly be there,” said Carissa Pokorny-Golden, director of PDE’s Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality.

Getting new teachers certified as quickly as possible is a priority, especially with the state’s teacher shortage reaching what some call a “crisis.” Pokorny-Golden said when she started at PDE in 2022, new teacher certifications took about 10 to 12 weeks. A big reason is that PDE was severely understaffed, with about 12 to 16 employees evaluating certification applications.

Months-long wait times are a problem, especially for students graduating in May and going into teaching.

“It’s unnerving when you don’t get your certification when you expect it to come,” Pokorny-Golden said.

Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesperson Chris Lilienthal added, “It’s getting really close to August and that’s when these folks are hoping to start their job.”

Lilienthal said becoming a teacher is a complicated process with several steps.

“It’s a very rigorous program we have here in Pennsylvania and we want to make sure that we aren’t throwing up obstacles in the way for young people who want to be teachers. We don’t want to create an incentive for them to get to a point in that process and say you know what, this is too hard, this is too complex, I’m going to change majors,” he said.

Cutting down wait times removes one more obstacle. Pokorny-Golden said PDE hired four more evaluators. That has helped cut time for in-state new teacher certifications down to one to three weeks. Out-of-state and specialized certificates still take longer, but Pokorny-Golden said the state is continuing to hire more people to help.

“We’re hoping to reach the goal that we will be able to get all certificates done within at least four weeks,” she said.

PDE has also made several changes to their website to make it easier to use. A big change is the addition of a certification clock, which shows the real time wait for different levels of certification.

“A lot of our phone calls, a lot of our emails are you know, asking, you know, how long is my certification going to take?” Pokorny-Golden said.

PDE’s website also features a revamped certification page to make it easy to find answers to frequently asked questions, as well as step-by-step guides and instructional videos. This is all part of an effort to streamline the process as much as possible.

“We think it makes the process more transparent, more accountable and it certainly makes it a lot more user friendly for educators,” Lilienthal said.

Both PSEA and PDE agree this is a step in the right direction, but both groups are also working on several other ways to ease the teacher crisis. PDE has approved an apprenticeship program for high school students and also works on grants for professional development for teachers already in the field. PSEA is pushing for funding towards scholarship programs and raising teachers’ starting salaries.