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September 23, 2021 · OPINION

National teacher shortage demands creativity, change

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Fauquier public schools have more than 40 open teaching positions, with “very, very few candidates available to interview.”
By David Jeck
School Superintendent

Today, we find ourselves in a national teacher shortage that we have been able to avoid over the past few years. Old educators like me were warned about it many years ago, the lens being inevitable Baby Boomer retirements. Moreover, the number of college students choosing to teach for a career continues to dwindle while the demand for teachers continues to grow.

The shortage is real and is now impacting us significantly. As of today, we are down over 40 teachers, and there are very, very few candidates available to interview. Our Human Resources professionals attend over 40 recruitment fairs both in person and virtually, including our own hiring fair held every March. Still, the number of prospective candidates continues to decline each year.

Unless we act decisively and creatively, the impact of the shortage will only get worse. The people who will suffer as a result of this shortage are, of course, our kids. The long-term effects could be catastrophic for our communities in general.

When we search for solutions, the most obvious answer doesn’t seem so obvious anymore. Increasing pay is an important factor in attracting and retaining our teachers, but it is no panacea, as we see even the highest paying school divisions in our state deal with the same shortages.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a large group of superintendents tasked with generating potential solutions. Here are some of the proposed strategies:

• College loan forgiveness.

• Tax breaks.

• Housing assistance.

• Signing and loyalty bonuses.

• Limit what we expect from teachers to teaching and teaching only.

Most of these strategies are expensive, potentially very expensive, but the instructional alternatives associated with not having enough teachers are sparse. Widespread virtual instructional models still have a long way to go. Even the most robust and user-friendly models still have limitations that must be addressed, not the least of which is that virtual learning is never going to replace the effectiveness of in-person, face-to-face instruction for most students.

But, there is another solution, one that gets very little attention but has the potential to have a monumental impact . . . .

I was able to speak with the Virginia secretary of education earlier this summer. We talked about teacher shortages, and he was kind enough to ask me what I thought the cause was. I asked a somewhat rhetorical question: Who would want to be a teacher right now? Have you seen how teachers are being treated? Teachers have had to endure revolting public comments at school board meetings, floggings via social media, and even being called “losers” by national leaders. This kind of treatment needs to end immediately.

Teachers are indispensable to our society, but sadly, they are not treated as such. We have to not only defend our teachers, but praise them, and elevate them to a level commensurate with the value they add to our communities. I recognize that the vast majority of folks in our community agree, and they do respect, appreciate and recognize the value they provide to our community.

Teaching is hard work. Unless you have done it yourself, you may not be able to relate entirely. I am not, by the way, pitting teaching against any other profession. I wouldn’t attempt to draw those comparisons unless I had actually walked in those shoes. And yet, some will do just that even if they’ve not spent a single day teaching in a classroom.

Let’s change the conversation and consider all strategies to attract more good people to this amazing profession. It is not too late to fix this problem.

The writer has served as the superintendent of Fauquier County Public Schools since May 2013.
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