A Win-Win Solution

when did portland

The teacher shortage remains serious. The job has gotten even harder, pay has not kept up, and student and parent behavior is often problematical.

Portland, Oregon had its first-ever teacher strike this November after bargaining for five months when the previous contract expired. Portland’s over 4000 teachers were striking not only for more pay but for smaller classes and better working conditions. (apnews.com) They did reach a tentative agreement on November 26, and students returned to school on November 27. Teacher pay did increase, but not as much as teachers had sought, and the new contract does include extra pay for larger classes and class size committees instead of hard caps. (opb.org) Will changes like these in Portland and other districts be enough? Only time will tell.

Understaffed schools around the country are hiring long-term subs and unqualified candidates for roles normally filled by certified teachers. Teacher turnover rose to a historically high 14 percent in the 2021-22 school year, further exacerbating the problem. 

The Annenberg Institute at Brown University analyzed national teacher shortages. They found a national vacancy rate of at least 36,500 teaching positions, but when they extrapolate to include states that didn’t provide data, they believe the vacancy rate is closer to 52,800 positions. They also assert that over 5% of positions are held by unqualified teachers. They point out that the vacancy rates vary dramatically across regions and states. “For example, the vacancy rate per 10,000 students is more than 159 times as high in Mississippi as it is in Missouri.” (researchgate.net)

Teachers currently serving in schools are leaving faster than usual. Over a year ago, Brenda Cassellius, the Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, wrote about their high vacancy rate and shortage of bus drivers and substitutes. She asserts that we are losing current teachers and don’t have enough in the pipeline because pay and working conditions are so much better in other fields. (washingtonpost.com) My friends who are still teaching say that helicopter parents and students who too often no longer honor behavioral norms are driving them out. Hannah Natanson, a prize-winning education journalist for The Washington Post, provides a litany of factors: “Experts point to a confluence of factors including pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents — and sometimes their own school board members — have little respect for their profession amid an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender and sexual orientation, as well as LGBTQ issues.” (washingtonpost.com2)

Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization committed to covering education and school improvement, warns that “Teachers appear to be leaving at higher rates, and there’s been a longer-standing decline in people training to become teachers. At the same time, schools may have wanted to hire more teachers than usual because they remain flush with COVID relief money and want to address learning loss. That’s a recipe for a shortage.” They also point out that high-poverty schools are the hardest hit. (chalkbeat.org)

NPR points out that certain kinds of teachers are still in short supply, teacher shortages hit high-poverty and high-minority schools more, teacher pay has stagnated even as the cost of a teaching degree has nearly doubled, and fewer people have been training to become teachers for nearly a decade. (npr.org) We need to address all of these factors.

“The Biden administration has unveiled a three-point plan to address teacher shortages: partner with recruitment firms to find new potential applicants, subsidize other prospective teachers’ training, and pay them more so they’ll stay…” (edweek.org) Improving pay, calming the culture wars, offering mentoring programs would all help.

There is another answer, though. Teaching is an exhausting job. Veteran teachers might not retire if they were permitted to job share with another teacher and cut their days and workload. Young teachers who might be primary parents might jump at the chance to job share to make their teaching role more compatible with the demands of their personal life. Younger teachers might help veterans update their skills in evolving areas like technology, while those veterans could mentor their younger partners in areas like classroom management and assessment. Ideally, each might even help cover the absences of the other.

 Helly Douglas claims “the lack of flexible working is a key reason teachers don’t return to the job after taking a career break. There are 250,000 former teachers of working age who are not teaching in state schools. Increasing part-time options could be a massive help to those who want to return but can’t because of health, family commitments or lack of available part-time jobs.” (medium.com) Just imagine what a powerful addition many of those teachers could be.

I loved teaching and really enjoyed mentoring new teachers, but I retired because I wanted to spend time with my grandchildren before they grew up completely and because I was tired. When I posed job-sharing to my district, they turned me down. People like me, with a job-share partner, could fill many of those shortages, and job-sharing teachers could learn from each other, which would benefit their students. This is an idea whose time has come!

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