Teachers Wanted

The Teacher Shortage is REAL

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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I used to think the teacher shortage was more of a statistic than a reality. Sure, I believed it was happening in other schools. But I have been relatively unaffected in my own professional life (thank goodness!). This year, things have really changed for me. The teacher shortage is affecting my own school and the school where I worked last year. Now that it’s affecting kids and staff that I know personally, I can see clearly: The teacher shortage is very REAL.

As you’ve seen on Stories from Schools AZ this month, I’m not the only one thinking about the teacher shortage and working conditions. Mike Vargas wrote about the shortage of physics teachers, Chris Marsh wrote about teachers on the brink, and Mike Lee proclaimed, “the bad things are here.” Given my own experiences with teacher shortages recently, I have to agree. The bad things ARE here.

I’ve taught preschool special education for seven years now in Title I schools. I work at a great campus with terrific leadership in a wonderful neighborhood. Despite these qualities, we are short one preschool special education teacher on my campus. We have three developmental preschool programs and only two certified teachers. Administrators have been aggressively searching for a qualified teacher since August, but there just aren’t candidates. To make matters FAR worse, we haven’t been able to find a regular sub either. For preschool kids who need consistency, it’s highly disruptive to have a different sub every day. Last week, there was no sub at all! For four days, we split the students from the third classroom into our other two preschool classes. This created stress and behavior problems that continue to linger in my classroom this week now that things are back to “normal.” It’s hard to have any kind of normal when you’re on the front lines of the teacher shortage.

It’s not just my current school either. At my last school, they are short three special education teachers on a campus with five special education positions! One of the vacant positions is my old classroom. My heart aches so much for the kids and staff I left behind. Even though they have a talented long-term sub, she cannot write IEPs for the students. That burden falls on one of my old colleagues who is carrying a double caseload: her own students and my old students. Another colleague there has carried a double caseload for two years because there was a long-term special ed sub last year and the position is still vacant. In my opinion, two special education teachers simply cannot manage five caseloads of special education students. It’s like trial by fire. Can we keep asking teachers to make these personal sacrifices just for the “love” of teaching? At some point, teachers in these circumstances start thinking about other careers.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about my own experiences and the changes in working conditions since I entered the profession. When I first started teaching twelve years ago, there were so many supports on my elementary campus. There was a school counselor, a part-time police officer, and a part-time special education clerk who contacted families and filed paperwork. As school funding has decreased, these positions have been eliminated at most public schools. Does that mean that schools cease to need counselors, officers, and special education clerks? No. Certainly not. It means that educators have to take on these roles—creating unhappy working conditions because there aren’t enough hours in the workday. These unhappy working conditions come alongside larger class sizes, more assessments, and additional job responsibilities like after school tutoring programs. When I think about the teacher shortage, I think it’s relatively explainable: There are few sane people who are willing to do an insane job. I think that improving working conditions is the only way we are going to turn the teacher shortage reality into the reality our kids deserve: fully staffed schools.

Image credit: https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2013/04/23/07/34/board-106588_960_720.jpg


Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

Comments 12

  1. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Wow. This brings it home. Nobody should be covering double caseloads in ANY field, but when you think about the impact that early childhood interventions can have (positive and negative when they are not effectively planned and implemented) and you think about the burden that those teachers must feel as they negotiate an impossible situation for their young, young students… it is simply heartbreaking!

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      AMEN! One teacher is often far more than a body in a classroom–there are so many little things that each teacher does around a school. They can’t be replaced by the next person in the classroom–there’s always a hole left behind.

  2. Angelia

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Jess. The teacher shortage become so real when it is our school, our teachers, and most importantly our students who are effected. You are onto something when you talk about ending the teacher shortage by improving working conditions in our schools. The culture and working conditions in a school are the only things that “makeup” for lack of pay. When you feel valued and autonomous, you want to stay because you know you are valued as a professional. When you feel broken by the current state of the system, it can make the hardships difficult to endure. It’s time to take back the direction of our profession and leave a legacy we can be proud of.

  3. Christine Porter Marsh

    I love this! You’ve nailed it: “There are few sane people who are willing to do an insane job.” I hope people wake up sometime soon…really soon. This can’t go on. It’s disservice to our kids. That’s the bottom line.

    But I know I’m preaching to the choir here….

  4. Mike Vargas

    Jess thank you for the shout out. And yes I agree with Christine, you nailed it. Recently I was part of a discussion about this and we agreed that that expectations we are chained too are becoming more and more unrealistic. I am lucky I work at a school with a full admin team and someone attached to each grade level to handle stuff. I know most west valley schools now only have 2 APs and an AD to handle school populations 2000+ .. Its not like were running a factory or something… Oh wait… hmmmm….

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      On my campus, we have only ONE principal and one instructional support position. They are amazing, awesome educators who do a great job–but REALLY? Is that fair to them? I’m just lucky they are awesome. Imagine how things would be for me if they weren’t.

  5. Donnie Lee

    The shortage has hit my district hard. 2 years ago, we had one applicant apply for a mainstream classroom position. She quit the first week of school because she did not realize the amount of work that teachers do. We had to split up that class among the other grade level teachers for the rest of the year. My school had a special education position that was open for 2 years before it was filled. For one whole year, we only had 2 full time teachers in our 5th grade pod. The other two 5th grade classes were taught by a revolving door of subs. I know some districts have not felt it as much as others but other districts have been ravaged by the shortage. It has been up to the teachers to carry the workload and I am not sure how much longer teachers will continue to carry that load.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      So painful. It seriously kills me that we are losing MORE teachers because they are having to do the job for more than one position. It’s hard enough being a teacher for one classroom/caseload. It’s insane to be a teacher for more than one classroom/caseload. These things shouldn’t happen in our workplace. I hope you all find some relief.

  6. Alaina Adams

    Thankfully, I work in a school district where pay is competitive and we don’t experience as many shortages as some of our sister-districts… but we’re still seeing more than usual vacancies this year. Having said all of that, it’s time for a new approach. As a high school district, we’re seriously looking at programs to formalize our own pipeline of teachers; recruited from our own high schools, into neighboring universities, then back into our own classrooms. Necessity is the mother of innovation I suppose – but sad that it’s come to this! I long for the day when becoming a teacher is truly as alluring, lucrative, and rewarding as becoming a physician. Thanks for sharing your story friend.

  7. Jess Ledbetter

    Great news! We have hired a teacher for the preschool special education classroom on my campus! She started today :) I wish I could say the same for my old position. Still dreaming of special education teachers for classrooms at my old school. #theteachershortageisreal

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