School Districts Scramble To Find Teachers
MILWAUKEE — Four times this summer, the Waukesha School District had to post the same opening for a high school position teaching biology and chemistry.
As of last week, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Christine Hedstrom was pretty sure the district had secured someone for the job.
“But we would have liked to have found someone a few months ago,” she said.
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All the former candidates already had jobs by the time Waukesha offered them the position this summer, a trend that underscores the scramble for teachers that’s happening nationwide.
With the economy picking up, school districts across the country are seeing fewer applications for open positions this year — especially in perennially hard-to-fill areas such as special education — in sharp contrast to a flooded market of teachers looking for jobs just a few years ago.
The embattled teaching profession in Wisconsin and elsewhere may be scaring off some young people from choosing teaching. Others may be leaving for higher-paying jobs in the private sector, or in other school districts.
Districts are often scrambling to fill positions after new teachers — sometimes just days after they signed a contract — resign to work in another district that made them a better offer.
Contracts with unions used to restrict how quickly a teacher could move within a salary schedule, and some even restricted where a district could place a new teacher on the schedule. But in Wisconsin, when the legislature passed Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 law curtailing public-sector union bargaining, those restrictions went away.
“Now there’s complete discretion on the administration’s part, and much more churn on the teacher level,” Hedstrom said.
That’s been the case with administrator positions for years, but with teachers as free agents, the impact on kids can be felt more acutely.
“You could technically start a school year without an administrator in place,” Hedstrom said, “but you need to have a teacher in the classroom.”
Some states like California have such extreme teacher shortages that they’re hiring people without the proper credentials.
A shallower bench
In Wisconsin, district administrators say they’re finding enough qualified candidates, but the bench is much shallower than in previous years.
Charles Poches, superintendent of the Portage Community School District, said five years ago, an open elementary teaching position in the district would have attracted at least 150 to 180 applications.
This year there were 50.
“I never would have expected this summer to be this bad,” said Poches, who’s still trying to fill an English as a second language teaching position for this fall.
The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District experienced “shallow or nonexistent” pools of candidates in family and consumer services, physics and chemistry, according to the district.
“While we did not need a new technology education teacher this year, that pool is nonexistent,” said Kristin Gurtner, human resources director.
Education schools down
The shortage also is being seen at education colleges.
For the past several years nationally and in Wisconsin, there has been a scarcity of available math, science, special education and bilingual education teachers. However, Bill Henk, dean of the College of Education at Marquette University, said principals have expressed to him shortages in other areas.
“Some principals have reported that they couldn’t find the English and social studies teachers they sought either, and normally that pool has an abundant supply of candidates,” Henk said in an email. He added that from an informal sense, all or almost all of Marquette’s recent education graduates who sought teaching positions found them.
Marquette’s College of Education has decreased steadily since 2010, from 445 students to 385 in 2014.
Alan Shoho, the dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said he has heard of similar shortages, but he says the problem is not simply just the shortage of educators.
“For me, the issue is not so much about teacher shortages, but rather one of teacher retention,” Shoho said. “If we can solve the teacher retention issue, we would not have a teacher shortage problem in any area.”
UWM’s education program is larger, but it has seen similar declines in enrollment, from 2,135 in 2010 to 1,516 students last year.
He said the real problem will arise in the next five to 10 years when the baby boom generation continues to retire, leaving teaching and administrative vacancies.
The new state budget may offer some help.
Provisions in it call for the state Department of Public Instruction to offer a state license to licensed teachers who have taught in other states for at least a year.
Another provision allows those with industry experience to more easily become technical education teachers.
“I think there’s agreement that interest in teaching has been declining for a decade or so, but has dropped more in the past three years,” said Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
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