Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Looming Teacher Shortage?

Teachers participate in professional development led by
Hudson instructional coach.
Last week while at a superintendent meeting we began to discuss teacher recruitment and the growing concern with finding quality applicants for some positions. Shortages in a variety of content areas have long been a challenge in Iowa schools. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education publishes a list of teacher shortages annually. And here at Hudson, we haven't been immune to the effects of teacher shortages in some disciplines. Our business education position was vacant for years prior to us finally being able to hire an outstanding teacher to fill this role. Then, of course, our challenge in finding an FCS (Family and Consumer Science) teacher has been well chronicled. We got incredibly lucky first semester this year when we were able to lure Mrs. Stanek out of retirement to help us out for the fall term. Then fate smiled on us, as Mr. Dieken, working in conjunction with our partners at North Tama were able to hire a December graduate who actually has all the requisite endorsements to permanently fill this position beginning in January. Hopefully this will, in fact, be a permanent placement and we will be able to hold onto this teacher come spring hiring season. 

The aforementioned positions come as no surprise to us, nor to any school district in Iowa. They have long been on the Department of Education's shortage area list. Further, this is exacerbated here because of the size of our high school. Full-time positions in these content areas aren't possible because the number of students we have enrolled doesn't warrant a full class load. Although with a projected increase in enrollment, this could soon change in Hudson. But, we are focused on the here and now. Luckily we have been able to collaborate with surrounding districts and create full-time positions out of part-time positions by sharing a teacher. However, if the pool of potential candidates is very small to begin with, it becomes quite challenging to attract someone to a position where they will have to travel between two districts. After all, why would you if you didn't have to? As school leaders, this can be frustrating. Nonetheless, it has been our 'modus operandi' for several years.

But there are signs that it could get much more challenging. When the teacher leadership and compensation system launched four years ago, teachers across all disciples and content areas began to assume positions as instructional coaches, curriculum leaders, professional development coordinators; the list goes on! The benefits of teacher leadership are countless, but at the same time, this created numerous teaching positions that needed to be filled in classrooms all around the state. The first ripple in the pond was a shortage in substitute teachers. I began to hear from colleagues they were having problems finding substitutes. Why? Well, those who had previously been substitute teachers began to fill the void of classroom teachers. 

Then in Western Iowa, superintendents began to report a shortage in elementary teachers. When hearing this, I was very surprised. I often have commented that in Hudson, we merely have to think that an elementary teaching position may be opening soon; and then find ourselves with numerous applicants. Now, I do believe that geography has a lot to do with our ability to find teaching candidates, but I am savvy enough to know that what happens in Western Iowa will ultimately impact our part of the state. In that same superintendent meeting last week, a colleague from not very far away from here turned to our table and stated, "We had an elementary teaching position open and only had three applicants. Two of them were 'unhireable'."

Much of this is because students entering teacher preparation programs are down. Consider this: in the mid-'90s the University of Northen Iowa was preparing roughly 600 teachers annually. Over the last 8-10 years, that number has dropped to 450. Of all the traditional teacher prep programs in Iowa, public universities have dropped by 4% in recent years while private institutions have seen a decrease of 2%. It should also be noted that this isn't just an Iowa problem. If the current trends continue, by 2025 we could see a nationwide shortage of teachers approaching 100,000.

Mobility is an issue as well in Iowa. Once we get them here, we need to keep them here! Around 6.7% of teachers change schools each year and 18.9% change schools in a five-year span. So for us, it is not only about attracting talent, but it is about retaining those teachers once we have them in our classrooms. Next week we'll talk about steps we are taking to mitigate this potential shortage and make certain we continue to employ very high-quality educators.

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