Lack of teachers a national issue, says head of California education board

One desperate California school district is sending flyers home in students’ lunchboxes, telling parents it’s “now hiring.” Elsewhere, principals are filling in as crossing guards, teachers are being offered signing bonuses and schools are moving back to online learning.

Now that schools have welcomed students back to classrooms, they face a new challenge: a shortage of teachers and staff the likes of which some districts say they have never seen, the Associated Press reports.

Public schools have struggled for years with teacher shortages, particularly in math, science, special education and languages. But the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The stress of teaching in the COVID-19 era has triggered a spike in retirements and resignations. Schools also need to hire staffers like tutors and special aides to make up for learning losses and more teachers to run online school for those not ready to return.

Teacher shortages and difficulties filling openings have been reported in Tennessee, New Jersey and South Dakota, where one district started the school year with 120 teacher vacancies. Across Texas, the main districts in Houston, Waco and elsewhere reported hundreds of teaching vacancies at the start of the year.

Several schools nationwide have had to shut classrooms because of a lack of teachers.

In Michigan, Eastpointe Community Schools abruptly moved its middle school back to remote learning this week because it doesn’t have enough teachers. The small district north of Detroit has 43 positions vacant — a quarter of its teaching staff. When several middle school teachers resigned without notice last week, the district shifted to online classes to avoid sending in unqualified substitutes, spokeswoman Caitlyn Kienitz said.

“You don’t want just an adult who can pass a background check, you want a teacher in front of your kids,” Kienitz said. “This is obviously not ideal, but we’re able to make sure they’re getting each subject area from a teacher certified to teach it.”

According to a June survey of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic drove them to plan to leave the profession earlier than expected. Another survey by the RAND Corp. said the pandemic exacerbated attrition, burnout and stress on teachers, who were almost twice as likely as other employed adults to feel frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depression.

The lack of teachers is “really a nationwide issue and definitely a statewide issue,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of California’s State Board of Education.

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