Teacher Shortages

I genuinely cannot believe that this story is not getting more press coverage. I just happened upon it while doing research for another project. According to my state’s Dept of Ed website, in 2010, the state was certifying about 17,000 teachers each year.

For the 2016/17 school year, that number has plummeted to 4400! That’s more than 75% fewer people becoming certified teachers in less than a decade.

teacher shortages IEP

In recent weeks I’ve noticed an uptick in a recurring concern in the Facebook group. Each situation is a little different, but the theme and concern are the same.

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According to data provided by the state Department of Education, 6,215 people were newly certified in 2014-15 compared with 16,361 in 2012-13. Local superintendents and state officials say layoffs and the pressure of high-stakes testing as well as public bashing of teachers have soured many college students on education careers.

PA Dept of Education

Parent Concerns about Lack of Teachers

Here are some of the concerns I’ve heard from parents in recent weeks.

  • The long-term substitute is not the same person for the duration, despite it being a known absence (like maternity leave)
  • During a teacher’s absence, there is no substitute and paras/aides are being asked to watch over the class.
  • Teacher or Related Service Therapist leaves a job, the position goes unfilled for months.
  • Paras and aides that are assigned 1:1 to a child per their IEP are being pulled to substitute teach.

Sound familiar?

So I started doing some digging. Here is just a sampling of what I found.

National Crisis- Teacher Shortage

First, I found this chart about vacant teacher positions nationwide. It lists not only the teacher vacancies that a state has but also the positions that are currently filled by individuals who actually do not yet meet the criteria for a job (not fully certified).

Nationally, we have over 108k teachers who are in positions but not fully certified. And another 100k positions just not filled! What’s even worse is that this data is not complete, so there likely are many more.

Fewer College Graduates in Teaching

When I graduated from college in the early 90s, teaching positions were difficult to find. It was expected that you would have to sub for a few years before being given a permanent spot. That is no longer the case–and far from it.

Now, there is also a huge shortage of substitute teachers. I was able to find some great local data on this. Most schools aim for 100% “fill rate” as far as finding a substitute teacher when there is an absence. However, in the Lehigh Valley (PA) area, some school district fill rates are as low as 40%. What that means is, if 10 teachers call out sick, they are only able to find 4 subs.

Even if a school is able to maintain a 70% fill rate, in larger districts that can mean that 250 separate classrooms are without a teacher for the day. (citation: Allentown Morning Call, link above)

How this Affects our Kids with IEPs.

I know that this is affecting families, as far as where the rubber hits the road.

  • Teachers may feel guilty about being absent and come into work sick when they really shouldn’t.
  • Paras and Aides being pulled from students they are assigned to, thus that child not being given needed support that day.
  • IEPs not being followed because subs have too big a class to read and follow them.
  • Classes being meshed together thus created chaos and inconsistency in learning.
  • Reading Specialists, OTs and other professionals being asked to watch over classes; pull out time being reduced.

Why is there a teacher shortage?

Well, I could rant all day about this. But here are a few of the main ones.

  • Substitute teacher is extremely low pay and in most cases doesn’t even cover the cost of daycare for a day.
  • Standardized Testing and other similar entities have taken the fun, joy, and creativity out of teaching.
  • Class sizes getting larger and larger; too big to successfully manage.
  • Public Schools have become the ‘whipping boy’ for all that is wrong with society; and demoralizes teaching.
  • Too many over-involved helicopter parents
  • In some states, teaching is such a low-paying job that many have to get a second job just to make ends meet (The South, I’m looking at you!)
  • Decades of consistently underfunding schools, expectations of teachers to teach without giving them even the basic resources to do so (like books and pencils).

What we can do to encourage more teachers?

We have to turn this around, and it’s going to have to be a societal shift. The oldest Gen Xers are now 55 years old. We’re retiring soon. I know many teachers who did retire as soon as they could–and these are young people!

But here is some of the change that needs to happen.

  • Stop badmouthing teachers. And turn off the news stations that do.
  • Acknowledge that most teachers are good. Sure, we have IEP disputes, but most of them are not the teacher’s fault. Teachers want to help you. A few bad apples do not spoil the bunch.
  • Become a lobbyist or activist for public education.
  • Support your school locally. Volunteer. Donate. Get involved and do whatever you can to help.
  • Encourage teens to consider teaching as a career.

What about Uncertified Teachers?

This question keeps coming up in various forms. Can an uncertified teacher teach my child?

The answer is, it depends. Each state regulates teachers and teacher certification differently. And, some state legislatures have passed regs that give temporary relaxing the rules during an emergency or crisis.

My advice to you is not to focus on whether or not that person is certified, but what your IEP says and whether or not it’s being implemented. We all know of certified, experienced teachers who were terrible and brand new teachers who were a delight and extremely beneficial for our kids.

The leg you have to stand on, legally, is whether or not the IEP is being implemented. Whether or not your child is making meaningful progress.

So that is where your focus should be.

But my child isn’t getting his IEP services!

Ok, so, stay on top of it. And, as parents who genuinely care about our schools and our teachers, we have to be careful not to develop the hyper-empathy syndrome. Or, forgiving too much. I sometimes fall into this. I do care about schools and teachers, but my main focus has to be my child.

  • Ask! Obviously we can’t grill teachers about their personal health. But if a teacher is visibly pregnant, ask what the plan is.
  • As always, keep a good paper trail. Have a communication sheet set up so that you know if services occurred or not. Keep friendly, consistent communication with your team.
  • We can care about schools and advocate for our kids. The two are not mutually exclusive. Be proactive–have contingency plans in your IEP. Have an All About Me or one-sheet for your child made up and ask that it go in the sub folder.
  • Double and triple check exactly what your IEP says about service hours and what your child is getting. Keep good records so that you know exactly what your child is missing as far as pull out instruction, related service (therapy) hours and so on.
  • Speak up and offer suggestions. Be proactive–try to help them find someone. Offer to secure services privately and get reimbursement. As tired as the saying is, “Think outside the box” and see what you have to offer.

We’re all upset and stressed about this–parents, teachers, school admins. There is nothing they want more than to be able to adequately staff their buildings. This is a tough time for everyone.

We need to partner and work together to solve it. It’s why all parents need to be move involved in special education lobbying. In countries where public education and teachers are valued and respected, they don’t have this problem.

Good luck and as always, ask in the Facebook group if you have other questions.

Update: A Special Ed Attorney posted this on her page today. Contact her with your legal questions. I am sharing only for informational purposes, not to be construed as legal advice.


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