A desperate California school district is sending flyers home in students’ lunchboxes, telling parents it’s “now admitted.” Elsewhere, principals are filling in as crossing guards, teachers are being offered signing bonuses and schools are going back to online learning.
Now that schools have welcomed students into classrooms, they face a new challenge: a shortage of teachers and staff that some districts say they’ve never seen.
Public schools have struggled with teacher shortages for years, especially in math, science, special education and languages. But, he coronavirus The pandemic has compounded the problem. stress of teaching COVID-19 The era has triggered a spike in retirements and resignations. Schools also need to hire staff such as tutors and special assistants to compensate for the loss of learning and employ more teachers to run online schools for those who are not ready to go back.
Teacher shortages and difficulties filling vacancies have been reported in Tennessee, New Jersey and South Dakota, where one district began the school year with 120 teacher vacancies. Across Texas, the core districts of Houston, Waco and elsewhere reported hundreds of teaching vacancies at the start of the year.
Many schools across the country have had to close classes due to a shortage of teachers.
In Michigan, Eastpoint Community Schools abruptly moved its middle school to distance learning this week because it doesn’t have enough teachers. The small district north of Detroit has 43 vacancies — a quarter of its teaching staff. When several middle school teachers resigned without notice last week, the district moved to online classes to avoid sending disqualified substitutes, spokeswoman Kaitlyn Keinitz said.
“You don’t just want an adult who can do a background check, you want a teacher in front of your kids,” Kienitz said. “It’s obviously not ideal, but we’ve been able to make sure they’re getting each subject area from a certified teacher to teach it.”
According to a June survey of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic prompted them to make plans to leave the profession earlier than expected. Another survey by RAND Corp said the pandemic increased stress, irritation and stress on teachers, who were almost twice as likely as other employed adults to feel persistent job-related stress and to experience depression. The probability was almost three times higher.
The shortage of teachers is “really a nationwide issue and certainly a statewide issue,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education.
A school district in West Contra Costa County, California, is considering hiring out-of-state math teachers to teach online, while an option is to supervise students in person.
“This is the most serious labor shortage we’ve ever had,” associate superintendent Tony Wold said. “We opened this year with 50 – which is five-zero – teaching positions open. This means students are going to 50 classrooms with no permanent teachers.
Wold said there are an additional 100 openings for non-credential but important staff such as instructional aides — who help English learners and students with special needs — mentors, cafeteria workers and others.
California’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified, has 600,000 students, more than 500 teacher vacancies, a fivefold increase over previous years, spokeswoman Shannon Haber said.
Schools try to fill up with options, but they’re also in short supply. Nikki Henry, a spokeswoman for the Central California district with 70,000 students and 12,000 employees, said only a quarter of the 1,000 eligible substitutes are willing to work at Fresno Unified.
At Berkeley High School, a lack of options means teachers are asked to fill in during their preparatory period, leading to exhaustion and burnout not usually felt at the start of the school year.
“We are absolutely tense. It’s been an incredibly stressful start to the year,” said ninth grade teacher Hasmig Minassian, who describes the physical and mental exhaustion as she tries to juggle staff needs and the emotional needs of students who are more Showing signs of mental fragility and learning impairment.
“It doesn’t seem like there are enough adults on these campuses to really keep kids safe. We feel a staff crunch in a way we’ve never felt before,” she said. “You see the cries of nurses in your cars. You know the opening videos? I expect them to come out about the teachers.”
Darling-Hammond of the Board of Education said California’s shortage ranged from severe to less severe in places that planned ahead and beat the competition, but they are in the minority.
In a new twist, money is not the main problem. Thanks to billions in federal and state pandemic relief funds, school districts have the money to hire additional staff. People just aren’t applying.
“We are all competing for a shrinking piece of the pie,” said Mike Ghelber, assistant superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in the Mojave Desert, which has more than 200 openings for special education aides, mentors, cafeteria workers and more. Don’t know if everyone is being snubbed, or if they don’t want to teach in the post-COVID era, but it seems the well has run dry.”
The district of 8,000 students has advertisements in newspapers, radio and social media. Teachers are packing “now admitted” flyers into kids’ lunchboxes, with a long list of openings so families can spread the word. During this everyone is laughing.
“The principal and administrator are doing guard crossings. The secretary is directing the traffic because we lack supervisors,” said Ghelbar.
Darling-Hammond said the shortage raises concerns that schools will hire unqualified teachers, particularly in low-income communities where positions are already hard to fill.
The class size is also increasing.
The Mount Diablo Unified School District, which serves 28,000 students east of San Francisco, has had to fill several elementary school classrooms at a maximum capacity of 32 students. it’s not ideal social distancing But online school frees up teachers.
About 150 children initially signed up for distance learning, but that number rose to 600 when the school reopened, due to spiking infections on the highly contagious Delta variant. The same happened in Fresno, where distance learning enrollment increased from 450 to 3,800.
Superintendent Adam Clarke said the Mount Diablo District is offering bonuses of $5,000 for speech pathologists and $1,500 for paraeducators who help students with learning needs.
San Francisco is offering a similar starting bonus for Unified 100 Para Educator Jobs. Nearby West Contra Costa County Unified has set a $6,000 signing bonus for teachers, with a third being paid after the first month and resting as the teacher enters the third year.
The districts of Oklahoma, North Carolina, New Jersey and elsewhere are offering a range of cash incentives for new teachers, especially in low-income and low-performing schools.
Of a dozen officers interviewed in California’s districts, only one said he was facing no shortages.
Long Beach Unified, the state’s fourth-largest district with more than 70,000 students, estimated the need last spring to recruit about 400 jobs.
“We went completely on the offensive,” said assistant superintendent David Zaid, which includes ramping up human resources for a 24-hour turnaround on contract proposals.
A virtual interview team worked over the summer. Recruitment events attracted hundreds of applicants, and as HR employees met hiring benchmarks, they received awards such as catered breakfasts and an ice cream truck.
“We might have experienced the same shortfall as others,” Zaid said. “But we became too assertive, and as a result, we are not in the same position.”