A predicted crisis in the ability of Kansas schools to staff classrooms with teachers may not be quite at the emergency level.
But high levels of burnout and stress are leading to a shrinking pool of candidates to fill vacancies, and researchers fear the effects of continued attacks on the profession will snowball and few people become teachers first.
A spring report from the Kansas Department of Education Teacher Vacancy and Supply Committee showed that statewide there were just under 1,400 teacher vacancies as of March 2022. A few months after the report, the commissioner at State Education Randy Watson warned that Kansas schools could be bracing for “a shortage of educators that could be the worst we’ve seen” in Kansas.
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However, a limitation of this data is that the department includes positions that are filled, but not with a teacher with the appropriate license – think of a math teacher hired for an English position.
Another is that headcount typically changes significantly over the summer as districts make new hires and also see departures, which would not be reflected in a spring data collection.
Both of these reasons make it difficult to use this data to pinpoint exactly the extent of teacher staffing problems, especially statewide, said Tuan Nguyen, a professor at the State University of Kansas studying work in education.
Nguyen is the lead author of a working paper that is among the first to examine teacher shortages at the national level. It’s a difficult task, given that there are no standards for how state education departments across the country report teacher vacancies.
With millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds, many districts have also created positions that have been filled by existing teaching staff, although the exact effect of these new positions on teacher vacancies remains unclear. is not yet fully understood, Nguyen said.
While some Kansas districts are experiencing teacher shortages and others are having to find unique ways to staff their classrooms, some are reporting relatively normal staffing and hiring conditions. But even with adequate staffing, dwindling supply teacher pools are straining schools whenever teachers have to miss school.
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In South East Saline $306, Superintendent Roger Stumpf said he felt fortunate to have been able to hire for all teaching positions in the 700-student district, although he has seen a dramatic decline the number of candidates.
“We used to get 15 to 20 or even up to 30 applicants for a teaching position,” Stumpf said. “Now we are lucky to have 2-3.”
Without specific statewide data, it is difficult to conclusively point to a severe teacher shortage in Kansas, at least until the KSDE releases its fall collection of teacher vacancies data. teachers in October, Nguyen said.
But with the limited data from a handful of states with more robust reporting systems, there’s enough to suggest that schools across the country have likely seen teacher turnover increase by a few percentage points, he said. Nguyen, which can add up to hundreds or thousands of vacancies when most states have teaching staff in the tens of thousands.
“With the research going on right now, what we’ve seen is that the attrition rate in this first year of COVID hasn’t changed much,” Nguyen said. “It was really in the second and third years that we saw a few percentage points increase (in teacher turnover) – substantial, but not an exodus.”
Why the Teacher Shortage Discussion Itself Matters
Using statistics from most state education departments and news reports, the working paper by Nguyen and his co-researchers estimates that there are at least 36,000 teaching vacancies nationwide. . The researchers note that this is likely an undercount, as data from some states predates the pandemic, and some states such as California can fill positions with substitute teachers or teachers with certifications. emergency.
But the data also points to significant differences in some states, particularly in the South, where a deluge of education laws has undermined the prestige of teaching as a respectable profession, Nguyen said.
“It’s not considered highly in society anymore,” Nguyen said. “It’s considered a semi-profession. We have states that coerce teachers’ hands and dictate what they can or cannot teach.”
In Kansas, a survey of 20,000 teachers found that one in six felt likely to leave public education before reaching retirement age, and half of all respondents felt disengaged from their jobs. .
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But Nguyen cautions against reading too much into this kind of data, because intentions don’t always match actions when it comes to job satisfaction and attrition rates. A separate national study by researchers at the RAND Corporation found that while more teachers and principals in January 2022 indicated they were likely to leave at the end of the 2021-22 school year, data suggests that few have done so.
Teachers feel stress and burnout
This is not to overlook teachers’ feelings of stress and burnout, Nguyen stressed. He suspects that the perception of a teacher shortage crisis, while not yet backed by data, is itself driven in part by a gloomy view of educators and the general public’s approach to the profession.
For its part, the Kansas State Board of Education convened a special task force in July, made up of representatives from the Teacher Vacancy and Supply Committee and the Professional Standards Board, to develop long-term ideas for strengthening school staffing. Kansas schools. .
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There are more nuances in the conversation about school staff and teacher shortages, Nguyen said, but stakeholders need to keep in mind the people behind those numbers.
“When a national survey shows that 55% of teachers are considering leaving the profession, even if they don’t end up doing so, it still indicates a high level of stress and burnout, and that’s something we should all care,” he added. he said.
“Teachers are human beings, and we also need to care about their mental health and well-being.”
Kendrick Calfee of Salina Journal contributed.
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.