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From 'crisis' to 'catastrophe,' schools scramble once again to find teachers

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  10 months ago  •  34 comments

By:   Shannon Pettypiece

From 'crisis' to 'catastrophe,' schools scramble once again to find teachers
As students head back to the classroom, school districts are once again scrambling to fill jobs as teacher shortages show little signs of improving

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


Vance Varner is heading into another school year desperately searching for teachers and staff members: an English instructor, a special education teacher, a speech therapist.

Varner, the superintendent of schools in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, a rural community 30 minutes from the Penn State campus, said four of his teacher positions are still vacant less than a month before the start of school. He said that with some positions getting zero applications, he is preparing to fill some of the vacancies with people who have no teaching experience or training, which he rarely had to do a decade ago.

"There's a perfect storm in education right now, especially in rural communities such as ours," said Varner, who has worked as a teacher and an administrator in Mifflin County for 25 years.

As millions of students get ready to head back to the classroom, school districts are once again scrambling to fill jobs as teacher shortages aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic show little signs of improving for yet another school year, according to interviews with more than a dozen academic researchers, teachers and administrators in rural, suburban and urban school districts.

Teachers aren't just trying to help students catch up from pandemic-era learning losses — many are also at the center of a pitched culture war as politicians accuse them of trying to indoctrinate children and turn their syllabuses into campaign fodder.

But many education leaders say the real problem in classrooms is the lack of instructors.

"At first it was a teacher shortage. Then there was a teacher shortage crisis. Then it was a teacher shortage catastrophe, and it just escalates," said Mark Klaisner, the president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools. "Our kids deserve so much better, and it just feels almost criminal, because we're not providing the quality that we would if we could find the candidates."

Administrators say that to deal with the staffing shortfalls, they are relying again this year on long-term substitute teachers, hiring emergency certified teachers with no teaching qualifications or experience, bringing in teachers from overseas, and increasing class sizes. It means yet another year when many students won't be able to get the support they need as standardized tests show kids falling behind in key areas, educators said.

"This has an impact on kids' learning precisely at a time where we need to be accelerating learning," said Ed Fuller, an education professor at Penn State. "We don't have enough teachers and enough principals to fill all the positions, and we have lots of turnover. So that's making it very difficult to accelerate the kids back to where they should have been had the pandemic not happened."

Klaisner said his colleagues across Illinois tell him the problem is only getting worse despite efforts by policymakers, including legislation to raise minimum teacher pay. Some superintendents are discussing whether they will have to send kids to neighboring districts because they don't have enough teachers, he said. Others are filling the gaps with teachers who aren't fully certified, as in one district in central Illinois where a middle school doesn't have a single teacher who is appropriately certified for the subject being taught, Klaisner said.

"It's almost down to can you find a pulse and a heartbeat, and that'll work," he said of filling job vacancies.

It's almost down to can you find a pulse and a heartbeat, and that'll work.

— Mark Klaisner, Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools

While some school districts have long struggled to find enough teachers, the shortages have become more widespread and severe in many regions since the start of the pandemic, which education researchers say triggered a wave of early retirements, along with resignations from burned-out educators.

There is little nationwide data to show how many teachers have left the workforce in recent years. State surveys from a variety of regions show a growing trend of teacher resignations. Pennsylvania had the largest increase in teacher attrition on record last year, with 7.7% of all teachers leaving their jobs, according to research by Fuller. In Washington state, the teacher attrition rate was 8.91% last year, the highest in 37 years. In Maine, more than 2,000 teachers and other educators quit or retired last year, the most in the past seven years, according to the Maine Public Employee Retirement System.

At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of college graduates going into teaching that predates the pandemic. Relatively low pay in a strong labor market and political infighting that has put teachers at the center of culture wars on issues like race and gender have also fueled the trends, said teachers, administrators and researchers.

"It's a lack of respect that the position seems to have right now," said Trina Berg, who teaches earth and space science in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria. "We're under attack, unfortunately, by different parent groups and different political groups. And then everything kind of just builds up on you."

Berg, who is also the president of the Peoria Education Association teachers union, said her district has 10 special education teacher openings, five elementary school openings and 13 middle school vacancies. A district spokesperson said the number of openings this year was similar to what the district has had the past several years.

"It's exhausting. It's tiring. You get kids who roll up into high school who might have had long-term subs, no math teacher, no science teacher for at least a year, sometimes more," Berg said. "When you have openings, larger class sizes, that all leads to more teacher burnout, which just causes the problem to become worse."

Varner said that five years ago in Mifflin County, his district would get 15 to 30 applications for an opening. Now it's a victory if he gets five. He said his district's relatively low salary, about $46,000 for a new teacher, is one of his biggest hurdles to recruiting. In nearby State College, Pennsylvania, where many teachers live, the starting salary is $11,000 higher. He recently lost an English teacher with more than a decade of experience to another district where he estimates the teacher could make $8,000 to $12,000 more a year.

He also blames a wider decline in the number of new teachers. Applications for teaching licenses in Pennsylvania have fallen by 67% since 2010.

To make up for the shortage, the state has been issuing more emergency teacher certifications, which allow people with no teaching experience or training to be able to work as full-time teachers. Now the state is issuing more emergency teaching permits than full teaching certificates to new college graduates.

Almost half of the 45 people hired in Mifflin County to fill teaching roles last year, as well as 75% of special education teachers, had no formal training as teachers and were working under the state's emergency teacher certification program, Varner said.

"We have great people who care about kids, and they could be an incredible teacher in four or five years, but they have a lot of learning to do," Varner said.

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Joseph Torres, the dean of students at George Washington Elementary School, said his school will most likely have to start the year again with at least one long-term substitute teacher in a classroom.

"I don't want to say our kids are hurting, but that is the fact: Kids are hurting. They are suffering," said Torres, who is also the local president of the Lancaster Education Association teachers union. "That first pandemic group came back into a different educational world that is not the one that you and I went through."

To fill the staffing holes last year, Torres said, he and his colleagues frequently juggled multiple roles.

"I've had to be the secretary, cover the door; I've had to step in at lunches and recess. I have packed lunches, served lunches, breakfasts," Torres said. "It's all hands on deck."

Ernest Williams has been on the front lines of two other areas with particularly severe shortages in North Carolina — bus drivers and substitute teachers. On a typical day, Williams starts his bus driving shift at 6:15 a.m., picking up elementary school students in Vance County, then works as a teaching assistant for a third grade class at the local elementary school.

But in addition to those two jobs, last year, he said, he was often asked to fill in as a substitute teacher, taking him away from his third graders, then called on to pick up extra bus driving shifts in the afternoon.

"I had to watch a lot of classes, because they couldn't find anybody to sub. I'd get off the bus, I'd clock in, and a lot of times the assistant principal would say: 'We need you today. We can't find anybody,'" Williams said. "I leave early in the morning. I get home late."

While some saw teaching shortages as a post-pandemic hiccup, school administrators are treating them as the new normal and coming up with longer-term strategies to adjust to shortages, such as recruiting teachers from overseas. In the Phoenix suburb of Maricopa, about 1 in 4 teaching positions will be filled this year by teachers recruited from overseas, many of them coming from the Philippines, said Tom Beckett, Maricopa's assistant superintendent of human resources.

"Our foreign national teachers, really, they've been a godsend," Beckett said. "I'm not sure what we would do if we did not have that avenue."

Almost half of the 33 positions in the Altar Valley Elementary School District, about 30 minutes from Tucson, are filled with teachers recruited from overseas, including eight from the Philippines who are starting this year, said David Dumon, the district's superintendent. Without those teachers, Dumon said, the positions would most likely have gone unfilled, because he got only a handful of applications.

"There just aren't people applying for our jobs, Dumon said.

In Mifflin County, Varner is still hopeful that some members of the community will raise their hands at the last minute to help fill his openings. But his optimism is tenuous.

"We've always been able to do it. I'm trying to be optimistic that we can do it this year," Varner said. "But there is going to be a day that we're going to have an empty classroom."


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sandy-2021492
Professor Expert
1  sandy-2021492    10 months ago
Almost half of the 45 people hired in Mifflin County to fill teaching roles last year, as well as 75% of special education teachers, had no formal training as teachers and were working under the state's emergency teacher certification program, Varner said.

That's a scary statistic, especially in regards to the special education teachers.  One of my college roommates spent years teaching special ed, and she worked hard in college to learn strategies for helping students with learning disabilities to keep up with their peers.  It's not something you just figure out on the fly.

Another college friend works with school-aged kids with learning disabilities through a program at Marshall University.  Her program might have to shut down, because they can't find enough tutors.  They help a lot of kids get up to speed, especially those with reading difficulties.  Without that program, those kids might not receive the help they need, period. 

 
 
 
Snuffy
Professor Participates
2  Snuffy    10 months ago

So much of the problem is self-inflicted.  The starting pay for teachers is very low and so much of the new money that has gone to schools has not gone to raise teachers' salaries but instead has gone to administrators and the higher-ups, or to build new "pretty" schools.  Then school districts have some stupid rules.  My sister was a high school English teacher for many years.  She thought about moving to the school closer to home where her daughter was getting ready to start high school and despite having 18 years experience was told that she would need to start over as a "brand-new" teacher in that school district at the bottom of the pay scale.  

People will tend to gravitate to where the money is so I don't blame people for not wanting to get into teaching.  It takes a special type of person to willingly give up so much in order to be a teacher these days.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3  Kavika     10 months ago

According to the Florida Education Association, there were  5,294 teacher vacancies in January 2023 . In 2019, that number was 2,219.

TAMPA, Fla. - The state of Florida ranks nearly dead last when it comes to average teacher pay, according to a new report from the National Education Association.

The report, released this week, examined teachers’ salaries across the country. It says Florida is 48th in the country for average teacher pay, with teachers making about $51,230. The minimum living wage, it says, is $49,625.

Add to these miserable stats the ''culture wars'' by the state of Florida and the bottom has fallen out.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Professor Participates
4  Greg Jones    10 months ago

"It's almost down to can you find a pulse and a heartbeat, and that'll work," he said of filling job vacancies.

It's been that way for some time now. And then you add those "culture wars" that teach about inappropriate subjects like gender identity and sexual orientation in grade school while neglecting the basics like reading, writing, and arithmetic. And in the higher grades, who would want to teach in today's often violent and undisciplined classrooms, especially in urban and inner-city areas. 

And the current state and stance of the teacher's unions is a disgrace

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
4.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Greg Jones @4    10 months ago

As for those violent and undisciplined classrooms, did you ever watch the movie "To Sir With Love"?

 
 
 
GregTx
Professor Guide
4.1.1  GregTx  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @4.1    10 months ago

C'mon Buzz, the times aren't remotely the same as the movie you're referring to....

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
4.1.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  GregTx @4.1.1    10 months ago

Both the author and Greg Jones think so - maybe not everywhere, but certainly in some school areas. 

 
 
 
SteevieGee
Professor Silent
5  SteevieGee    10 months ago

Stockton unified is offering $12k signing bonuses for teachers right now.

 
 
 
GregTx
Professor Guide
5.1  GregTx  replied to  SteevieGee @5    10 months ago

Lol, I'm sure they're attracting a lot of quality educators....

 
 
 
SteevieGee
Professor Silent
5.1.1  SteevieGee  replied to  GregTx @5.1    10 months ago

Well I hope so.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
6  Drinker of the Wry    10 months ago

My wife teaches at an elementary school in the relatively wealthy Fairfax County VA.  The school budget last year was $3.3B for an average per student cost on over $19,000.  Of that budget, teachers earn 62.4%.  Specialty teachers and those with Masters degrees earn more.  19% of the students require English as a second language assistance.  15% require Special Education.   31.6% of students are classified as Economically disadvantaged.  28% of the budget goes to other personnel (admin, instructional and other specialists, psychologist, social workers and sports trainers, custodians, office support and technicians, etc.).

Last school year the county started off with 99% of its required teachers on hand although there was a scramble in the month before.  Starting teacher pay, non-specialty, BA, no experience was $39.01 per hour.

My wife’s pers complain the most about an almost overwhelming administration burden and student discipline issues. There is a lot of destruction of school property which requires additional teacher supervision.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
7  CB    10 months ago

Just desserts. Teachers have another complain that I have observed: Meddlesome parents/moms. You know, those so-called, "grass-roots" organizations which are trying to manage education through outside influence.  Many teachers are simply giving up on a job they love and found (past tense) rewarding.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
7.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @7    10 months ago

In Blue Fairfax County, the meddlesome parents are those that automatically take their child's side when disciplinary issues arise.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
7.1.1  CB  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @7.1    10 months ago

I have no knowledge of where "Blue Fairfax County" is, and can only assume it is in Virginia? Anyway, what does disciplinary issues have to do with organizations attempting to manage education/classrooms through outside influence? 

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
7.1.2  Texan1211  replied to  CB @7.1.1    10 months ago

Fairfax is right by DC.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
7.1.3  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @7.1.1    10 months ago

I have no knowledge of where "Blue Fairfax County" is

Just across the Potomac from DC

Anyway, what does disciplinary issues have to do with organizations attempting to manage education/classrooms through outside influence? 

Maybe you didn't closely read the seed, it's about a teacher shortage.

One issue cited was fewer students enrolled in Ed Degree programs.  I brought up two teacher complaints were my wife teaches.  

BTW, there are always outside influences including the PTA, Teachers Union, School Board, State and Federal rules, etc. 

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
7.1.4  CB  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @7.1.3    10 months ago
BTW, there are always outside influences including the PTA, Teachers Union, School Board, State and Federal rules, etc. 

I am aware of these influences and they have been around going way back! I have recently watched news stories of teachers "giving up" because of the (additional)  politics entering the classroom. First, my understanding and I could be wrong, is "many" teachers are spending their own money to provide what they feel is quality education where it is otherize not subsidized publicly. Secondly, there integrity as a group and as individuals (threats of firing/job insecurity) are coming front and center and. . .all that while not being sufficiently pay for their services. 

Teachers are overwhelmed by each new tasking/round of additional responsibilities/mandated outright lies or omissions coming from some community "organizations" and yes, governors and legislatures writing laws with penalties up to and including firing (smudge/blacklisting) or jailing them.

It's just not worth it, in my opinion. 

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
7.1.5  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @7.1.4    10 months ago
Teachers are overwhelmed by each new tasking/round of additional responsibilities/mandated outright lies or omissions coming from some community "organizations" and yes, governors and legislatures writing laws

Do you mean the pile on of always adding to the curriculum without removing anything?

 
 
 
1stwarrior
Professor Participates
7.2  1stwarrior  replied to  CB @7    10 months ago

Those are called "Helicopter" parents - always hovering over their kids and not a single bit of use to the child getting an education.

Pure pain's in the azzes.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
7.2.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  1stwarrior @7.2    10 months ago

Yeah...the ones that keep their kids from going to Saturday detention or summer school. My son had to do Sat detention twice and summer school once and wanted me to get him out of it. I told him to suffer the consequences of his actions

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
7.2.2  CB  replied to  1stwarrior @7.2    10 months ago

When teachers and administrators asked for parent participation in their child/ren's education they did not mean for the state officials and parent "organizations" to become a "presence" in the curricula and daily wording and activities of the students. Additionally, no one anticipated parents and governors "pa-trolling' the classrooms.

It's just way too much. Teachers are breaking away from the stresses and strains forced upon them for just wanting to do what they think is best for those under their reasonable   "duties and responsibilities."

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Expert
7.2.3  sandy-2021492  replied to  1stwarrior @7.2    10 months ago

One year, when my son was in middle school, we went to Open House.  Find the rooms, meet the teachers, find his locker, make sure he could work the combination.  All that stuff.  We went to say "hello" to his science teacher, and a mom was going on about her little Sarah's strengths, needs, weaknesses, etc.  Just droning on and on like there weren't a hundred other kids and parents who wanted to meet the same teacher.  We waited a bit, then went to find and introduce ourselves to other teachers he would have.  Came back, and we were hearing So.  Much.  More.  About little Sarah.  It was half an hour later, and this same mom was still holding the same teacher captive.

I felt sorry for the teacher, and I really feel sorry for little Sarah.  She's probably a basket case by now.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
7.2.4  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @7.2.2    10 months ago

Gee, CB, is that the only issue?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
8  Buzz of the Orient    10 months ago

Personally, having had the opportunity to teach English in a private Chinese boarding high school for 6 years, I found teaching to have been a more personally rewarding profession than being a lawyer.  They were some of the best years of my life.  The feeling of causing a light being turned on in the minds of students was an unforgettable experience, but then the respect that Chinese students have for their teachers is a cultural tradition which may not exactly be replicated in the USA.  Personally, I wouldn't teach in the USA no matter HOW much I could be paid.  Besides the detriments that have been identified in the seed and the comments herein, what hasn't been mentioned is the paranoia that can arise from the possibility of being shot by an intruder or even as has been reported recently, by a student.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I don't blame people for not wanting to teach there.  And as Paul Harvey would have said in his radio broadcast "The Rest of the Story":  "And now you know one of the reasons for the dumbing down of America."

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
9  Drinker of the Wry    10 months ago

Last year, schools shootings occured at 0.22% of our schools.

 
 
 
afrayedknot
Junior Quiet
9.1  afrayedknot  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @9    10 months ago

And in what sane world is that in any way acceptable?

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
9.1.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  afrayedknot @9.1    10 months ago

What do you understand about risk analysis?

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
9.1.2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @9.1.1    10 months ago

The answer should be zero. It is in most western countries.

 
 
 
GregTx
Professor Guide
9.1.3  GregTx  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @9.1.2    10 months ago

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
9.1.4  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  GregTx @9.1.3    10 months ago

That list is the most damning evidence of gun violence I've ever seen, and justification for my attitude about teaching in the USA.  Detractors can speak of not to be concerned about "One chance in millions."  Many years ago I won a $5000 lottery prize that was one chance in millions, so sorry, Frank Zappa, but it CAN happen there. 

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
9.1.5  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @9.1.2    10 months ago

0.22 is close to zero.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
9.1.6  JBB  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @9.1.5    10 months ago

Wrong!

There have been at least 167 school shootings in the US where at least one person died since 2018. Do not even try to minimize that fact...

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
9.1.7  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  JBB @9.1.6    10 months ago

Bold talk JB, mighty bold talk.

BTW, there are around 131,000 K-12 schools in the USA.

 
 
 
afrayedknot
Junior Quiet
9.1.8  afrayedknot  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @9.1.7    10 months ago

And?

 
 

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