NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Superintendent Stanley Bean has several contingency plans in place.
For his sprawling Franklin County district, he faces 20 teaching vacancies with only a certain number of days to fill them before the start of the school year. His district extends into Monteagle Mountain to the Tennessee-Alabama line.
“I’m meeting with teachers; I’m currently grooming them for Plan B and Plan C if we can’t hire teachers, and I’m using long-term replacements,” Bean said. “The state has made efforts but not enough. Teachers are always trying to earn more money. When a position becomes available, they leave. It’s recruitment all the time.”
Bean is not alone.
A NewsChannel 5 analysis shows over 1,000 teacher openings in the first week of July. In the 2021-22 school year, the state had 1,024 unfilled vacancies, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education. As of that same school year, the state issued 1,354 permits, which give a person an emergency credential to teach in the classroom without any teaching license.
“Hopefully we’ll be in better shape. We’re very worried. We’re three weeks out from the start of the school year. We would typically have about 10 openings,” Bean said.
A problem that has been going on for years
Tonya Coats has just left the classroom but hasn’t given up on education.
In her new role as president of the Tennessee Education Association, she said she wants the next step in her career to revolve around teacher advocacy.
The new role also means confronting the problem of teaching vacancies in Tennessee head-on.
“With all the added challenges in the classroom, we are accepting more jobs with more students in the classroom and our salary is not the average of the national average. We should be over $60,000. We are professionals. Most educators have more than two degrees. The things that we have to do in the classroom, we have taken more because of this shortage of teachers.
Coats said the teacher shortage didn’t happen overnight. From her perspective, she said she saw it coming over the past few years, dating back to before the pandemic. She said she found a lot of things that have to do with how much teachers earn.
“There are educators working two or three jobs,” Coats said. “We have educators who have to work night shifts. When we think about the criteria in the classroom where we care for students in Tennessee, educators just can’t survive on what we’ve been able to survive. We love our students. But loving our students don’t take care of our households.”
To Professional Educators of Tennessee, executive director JC Bowman said districts are calling them for help and guidance. The organization is a professional organization for teachers across the state.
“It’s an ongoing trend,” Bowman said. “It’s going to become a crisis. I’m not thinking just in Tennessee but nationally. Tennessee has been immune to it since we border eight states. But we’ve made it difficult for them to come in. It’s become a real big problem. People are leaving the profession for all kinds of reasons, I think they are planning at least 2,000 teaching positions statewide.
The educational culture war
Julie Baker of Tennessee Tech University – associate dean of the College of Education – said they are constantly waging a culture war to interest potential students in becoming teachers.
“It’s really tough,” Baker said. “For several years, teachers’ accountability has been forced. Teachers are now more accountable than they’ve ever been before. The general public is tough on teachers. It’s definitely a battle we’re fighting all the time. It’s not just with families or current people When people in high positions say things that are not at all supportive of education, of course it’s going to set us back.
Tennessee Tech produces the most students in a three-year cohort, according to data from the Tennessee State Board of Education. Of those numbers, Tech has 796, followed by Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee-Martin. Baker said Tech started seeing a decline in the number of those entering the education program about eight years ago, but those numbers have leveled off in the past two years.
To combat some of the negative public discourse about entering the field, Baker said Tech has its own marketing person to go to schools to talk to prospective students. The school also has more than 50 different partnerships with school districts in Tennessee.
“When students look at professions, they don’t always look right in front of them,” Baker said. “One thing that’s the elephant in the room that you have to talk to high school students with is ask them how many people have told you not to get into the education business. Right now the culture is even the teachers, unfortunately, are encouraging these young adults not to go into the field of education. So one of the things we’re trying to do is reverse that. We really have to think about respecting our own profession and we need to show young students how rewarding that can be.
Be part of the solution
A casual chat between MNPS Adrienne Battle and Lipscomb University President Candice McQueen turned into a brand new program beginning another year.
Lipscomb University will provide full tuition and fees for a cohort of 10 MNPS students each year to enter the Teacher Preparation Program beginning in Fall 2023, meaning a total of 40 students will receive full tuition under the program in any given academic year once the program is fully populated in four years.
“The first step was just to form this partnership with MNPS and Antioch High School,” said Emily Medlock, director of undergraduate programs and student instruction, and associate professor at the College of Education. “As we prepare our teachers, we match our teacher candidates with high quality teachers when they enter MNPS classrooms. They receive this training at MNPS so that they can enter a classroom at MNPS .”
The Lift Off to Lipscomb program means that the university will have the chance to interact with students before their final years. School officials said they are focused on creating teachers for the Tennessee education community to help address the ongoing teacher shortage facing the state.
“It’s not an easy profession,” said College of Education acting dean Trace Herbert. “Children are not easy. They are complex beings with complex needs. So we try to create teachers who understand all the variations of all the children they have in front of them. It’s a complex business that requires a training and which requires education. requires understanding how to be a good teacher in complex environments.”
Beginning Teacher Salaries in Middle Tennessee