Southwest of Chicago, Steven Wrobleski is worried. School starts August 11 and he still has openings at LaSalle Peru Township High School.
“We currently have a chemistry physics teaching position that we have zero applicants for right now. I am really concerned about how we’re going to be able to fill that position,” Wrobleski said.
“Where are we going to find science and math teachers? There is angst over, ‘Are we going to find people, quality people?'”
Wrobleski is now the superintendent of the district he once attended. And he said the Covid-19 pandemic made the shortage worse. According to a recent Rand Corp. survey, almost 1 in 4 teachers said they may leave their job by the end of the 2020-21 school year. Prior to the pandemic, it was 1 in 6.
“People don’t go into education to teach on a computer … they want to be face to face,” he said. “Six years ago, we’d have an English or a social studies position posted. Within five days, we’d have 75 to 100 applicants. And this past school year, for one of our math positions we had three applicants.”
Frontline Education polled about 1,200 school and district leaders in the country. Frontline is a company that helps K-12 schools recruit and train educators. It revealed that 2 of 3 respondents reported a teacher shortage, and 75% of city school districts are dealing with a shortage. That’s compared to 65 percent in rural areas and 60 percent in suburban districts.
The shortage is forcing educators to think outside the box before kids return to the classroom. To fill openings in the Peoria Public School District, Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat hired teachers from other countries.
“We had to go international because our pool in the United States, it’s actually very, very dry, and you cannot sit and wait for people to apply to positions online. We have to go after them,” she said. “So, we have 27 that are coming from the Philippines, two from the Dominican Republic and one from Cameroon.”
According to the state’s website, the Illinois State Board of Education can sponsor teachers from other countries, also known as visiting international teachers.
“It is a three- to five-year program, and it is a cultural exchange program. So, the teachers will also learn about America, and the kids will also learn about their country,” she said.
Desmoulin-Kherat said that in 2015, when she accepted the role as superintendent, the district had 79 openings. Now, there are just three because of aggressive recruiting strategies which include sign-on bonuses and compensation for candidate referrals.
In 2018, the district created and invested in a recruiter position, which led to 23 new teachers, Desmoulin-Kherat said. The district also targeted student teachers and offered them jobs early.
“We are utilizing at least eight different strategies simultaneously to really combat this national crisis,” Desmoulin-Kherat said.
And if a teacher leaves a job that pays more, Desmoulin-Kherat says Peoria Public Schools will match that salary.
“Our thinking is never let a crisis go to waste. We had to reimagine how we approached recruitment and retention because you can’t just wait for individuals to apply for jobs,” she said. “In 2021, we are down to three openings for the upcoming school year: two art positions and one technology position. When everything is said and done, we are talking about 100 new teachers in classrooms starting in August 2021.”
Multiple factors contribute to the shortage
The Frontline study shows multiple reasons for the national teacher shortage. It sites a limited pool of qualified applicants; salary and benefits are lacking compared to other careers; and a shrinking number of new education school graduates.
Wrobleski said he hasn’t hired anyone from other countries but is working with colleges and universities to help fill the jobs. And he’s already concerned about the school years ahead.
“I’m worried though. And as I look at my own staff and see a population that is getting near retirement,” he said. “It’s a challenge.”
If his current opening is still vacant by the start of the school year, Wrobleski said some teachers on staff will have to teach six classes instead of five. That creates another challenge: teachers doing more with less.