With the school year barely a week old in many districts, systems are struggling to staff classrooms.
In an informal survey of certificated openings in fifteen out of the 24 Maryland school districts, there were 473 openings as of 8/30. This doesn't include positions that may exist in systems which don't specifically list openings but hide them behind generic job search platforms. It also doesn't include part time and non-certified classroom staff openings. There are approximately 60,000 certified teachers working in the Maryland's Public Schools.
Having vacancies this late in the summer is bad for students!
Some districts such as Worcester, Queen Anne, Caroline, Cecil and Garrett have less than ten openings. Others like Baltimore County and Baltimore City, list between 60 and 79 vacancies. The rest are between 28 to 52. Again, this is for certificated classroom teachers only, not support or administrative staff.
Is this normal? Not really. Usually, systems advertise positions by the middle of April. At that point, teachers who wish to leave systems have told their districts, teachers who have not been rehired are looking, and college students in their final year of school are on the hunt for a job. Normally, by the end of July most positions have been filled. There might be one or two hard to fill jobs still being advertised, but that's it. To have so many positions still unfilled by the end of August is almost unheard of, especially when most Maryland districts started the year on August 29 th.
Teacher shortages have happened before. I remember there were shortages at different points during my career. The Covid pandemic made things worse. Teachers left after the difficulty of the two years of virtual and hybrid learning.
In 2022, over 5,500 teachers left Maryland systems. Forty percent voluntarily resigned. Twenty-five percent left the classroom for other educational positions, particularly administration. Twenty percent retired. The rest were either fired, took a leave of absence, or went into another profession.
Maryland isn't the only state facing teacher shortages. The map from the U.S. State Education Agencies and ABC below shows that of February 2023, many states are facing the same problem. Altogether, there are 55,000 teacher vacancies across the U.S. There are over 270,000 underqualified positions, meaning that non-certified teachers are filling positions as well as teachers not certified in the area they are currently teaching.
The problem is growing exponentially as enrollment in teacher education programs is declining drastically.
The Unions tell everyone that teachers leave because teachers' pay is too low. In reality, teachers talk about poor working conditions, lack of support from administration, burnout, poor morale, and student behavior, especially violence.
What happens when schools are short staffed? The usual answer is that districts fill positions with uncertified substitute teachers. Many of these substitutes have yet to graduate college. However, there is a shortage of substitute teachers as well. The next solution? Increase class sizes beyond what is normal. At the secondary level, districts will cancel elective courses or force teachers to teach out of their content certification.
In some states, there is a new move to shorten the teacher work week.
There are many problems with a 4-day school week. What do students and their families do during these days when the students are not in school? In a time when many parents could be working more than one job, students could be spending days home with little or no supervision. Certainly, some families will be able to afford childcare on those days, but many will not.
School days will be longer to make up for the lost time and to fulfill the teachers' contracts. This will build in wasted time during the day. Studies have shown that during longer school days, the extra time is filled with non-instructional activities thus negating any benefit of being in school longer. This will also negatively impact extracurricular activities such as school sports or the arts.
From personal experience, I can tell you that is true.
Four-day work weeks will also support arguments against increasing teacher pay. The message of opponents is currently that teachers only work ten months out of the year, can you imagine when you take away one day a week during those ten months?
Some states are also fast-tracking teacher education. In Virginia, the Virginia State Board approved a three-year pilot with a company called iTeach:
This company promises to train and certify teachers within one year at a very low price. While this may sound great to those trying to fill empty classrooms, many urge caution, saying that the process will yield poorly trained teachers and this, in turn, will hurt students.
Currently, eleven states are using iTeach, including Florida, Virginia, and Arizona.
None of the proposed solutions are good for students. In the long run, they will also burn out teachers and denigrate the profession, thereby exacerbating the shortage.
There are creative solutions that will not hurt students.
First, most systems have a glut of middle management administrators. Many of these staff members are certificated teachers who have left the classroom to work at the central offices and move up in the administrative hierarchy. They work on projects which range from developing curriculum, observing teachers, attending meetings at the local and state level, etc. Put these people back into the classroom, at least temporarily. This will serve two purposes, giving kids a certified teacher and allowing middle level administration to remember what it is like to teach in a classroom with real students instead of theoretical children. This may also give them more credibility among the teaching staff.
Second, recruit retired personnel to come back part time to fill some of the holes. Suspend the rules restricting retired teachers from collecting retirement while taking a check for teaching. These teachers still have the content knowledge and skills to educate our children. While this may only be a temporary solution, it will fill the gap effectively until all positions are filled. Some systems in Maryland are currently doing this, hiring retired teachers as independent contractors to teach in schools.
Third (and our county has implemented something like this), creatively group elementary students and plan secondary classes so that the available staff can rotate in and out of class to provide constant, professional coverage while giving teachers planning time. This takes some creativity in scheduling and grouping.
Fourth, pay available teachers extra to teach classes during their planning time. This will be a contract issue with the union but can probably be overcome with some negotiation. This has been done before with teachers volunteering to do overtime.
These are all short term solutions to the teacher shortage. What are the long term solutions?
While unions will tell you that pay is the main thing discouraging people from teaching, I strongly disagree. Most people go into teaching because they have a mission, a vocation, to help others, particularly children. It's like being a nurse, firefighter, or a policeman. If you are choosing that profession for financial gain, you are kidding yourself. I was inspired to become a teacher because I wanted kids to be excited about learning how to write and reading great literature. I had teachers who inspired me, so I wanted to be like them.
Teaching is also a profession that allows one to share holidays with family, including summer. It also affords employees a fairly consistent workday. And while taking home student work to grade can be daunting, a smart, organized teacher can get it done during the workday.
As I tell people, teaching isn't rocket science, just knowledge, patience and a lot of devotion.
I believe the real issues that keep people away from teaching are the issues of working environment. When I started teaching over 40 years ago, schools were very different. Students have always been challenging to work with at times, but I always knew I had authority and control over discipline in my class. I knew that if I established myself as the "adult in the room" and had the backup of administration and parents, discipline would not be an issue.
Today's teachers don't have that. They are constantly being told that the students are in charge, that their behavior should be excused. Teachers are told that THEY must not hold students accountable because students may have difficult lives. I'm not saying that a student's life doesn't have an influence over his/her behavior, but it's a teacher's job to help a student overcome circumstances, not give into or ignore their bad behavior because of them.
And students are much more violent in school than they were ten years ago. This is due in part to recent legislation in Maryland that excuses criminal behavior and violence for any child under 13 years of age. The students know this and take full advantage. Watch a video of someone breaking up a school fight and listen to the students tell teachers that no one can touch them or stop them because of the law.
Teachers are being asked to do too much. Instead of focusing on academics, they are told to be activists, to promote political and ideological ideas. Class time is eaten up by so many things that have NOTHING to do with academics, making it impossible for teachers to teach. So, while students attend school for approximately six to eight hours a day, many teachers report that they lose as much as 50% of instructional time on classroom management/discipline, non-academic activities, irrelevant and administrative disruptions. (The Passionate Learner, Robert Fried)
They're also told to ignore parents instead of work with them. This not only makes the teacher's job harder, it alienates the student from their parents. Once that happens, the teacher loses the value of the family to make discipline and teaching easier.
In Maryland, the focus on filling teacher vacancies needs to be changed from weakening the standards to be a teacher to putting more time and money into training teachers in content and classroom management. Instead of fast-tracking teacher education programs, officials need to allow college grads in education programs to spend at least one year as a paid apprentice in a classroom with an experienced master teacher. Money that is currently being spent on additional middle management central office positions and additional Blueprint programs that have no business in schools could be moved to fund these apprenticeships. Research has shown that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. (Rand.org) Why not invest the time and money into developing the best we can?
Finally, teaching needs to be showcased by education schools as a profession for knowledgeable, skillful students, not a throw away job for those who can't do anything else. Recruiting teachers from other professions helps with that, as it shows how valuable teaching is as compared to the professions they came from. We need to allow the profession to gain respect again. And that means recruiting the best and brightest, not those seeking affirmation and acceptance from students or a place to bide their time until something better comes along.
Many of these ideas have been suggested by teachers for a very long time. But no one, not even their so-called Union, ever listens. Many of these ideas have been suggested by teachers for a very long time. But no one, not even their so-called Union, ever listens. The powers that be just keep piling on all the extras while not addressing what really needs to be done. They keep pretending if they add more social workers, more middle management, more program coordinators, that everything will work itself out.
It hasn't so far and it won't in the future.