Education

Scottsdale Schools not immune to teacher shortages

World languages, math, science among hardest classes to find educators

Posted 11/12/21

For the sixth straight year, the Arizona School Personnel Administration Association announced a teacher shortage in the state, confirmed by their survey results last month.

The report by the …

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Education

Scottsdale Schools not immune to teacher shortages

World languages, math, science among hardest classes to find educators

Posted

For the sixth straight year, the Arizona School Personnel Administration Association announced a teacher shortage in the state, confirmed by their survey results last month.

The report by the ASPAA, conducted with 145 school districts and charter schools, states that, since 2016, about 1 in 4 teaching positions steadily remain unfilled a month into each school year.

Survey results show alternative ways Arizona schools have had to fill teacher vacancies, and like many districts across the state, Scottsdale Unified School District is doing what it can to deal with the ongoing shortage of teachers and education professionals.

According to the recent report, more than 6,500 teaching positions needed to be filled prior to this school year. Of those vacancies, almost 1,700 remain unfilled as of Sept. 10.

The report also found that of the jobs filled, more than 3,600 of these individuals did not meet standard teaching requirements. This means 81% of teaching positions needed for this school year were either left vacant or filled by individuals that failed to meet certified requirements.

According to the survey, individuals who have a pending certification or who were granted emergency certification account for the majority of those filled positions. Other alternative methods included: individuals with teacher intern certificates, Subject Matter Expertise certificates, or those hired from outside of the U.S. by means of the H1B1 or another visa.

Jed Bowman, the assistant superintendent of human resources at Scottsdale Unified School District, explained how the district has been able to fill most of their positions with qualified teachers by working with in-state and community colleges.

“We aren’t at that point in our district, and we work really hard to ensure that all of our students have a quality teacher in front of them,” Bowman said. “We are actively involved with student-teaching programs with [colleges], so that we are developing teachers.”

Despite the planning put forth by the SUSD, the shortage still burdens the district in its attempts to fill core academic courses.

Bowman says the areas that are hardest to fill are world languages, mathematics, sciences, and special education. He explained that these positions are hardest to fill in high schools and middle schools, but special education teachers are hard to find throughout K-12 grade levels.

Bowman stressed the importance of having qualified teachers in schools and how students are affected by not having skilled, long-term teachers.

“If they don’t have a quality teacher in front of them every day in every class, then the impacts can be significant on their overall learning to be prepared for whatever their next career choice is,” Bowman said.

When looking at the effects COVID-19 has had on teachers returning to classrooms, Bowman expressed how fortunate the district has been by retaining almost the same level of staffing before the pandemic. However, he acknowledges the new trends that show staff leaving during the school year due to COVID-19.

“What I am seeing that’s different is that it’s been such a huge stress on so many of our staff, and I am seeing more people leaving mid-year than I have generally seen in past years,” Bowman said.

These trends are not seen only in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Justin Wing, former president of the ASPAA, says the number of teachers throughout the state that have left mid-contract has spiked since the pandemic began.

“I recall, in December of 2019, there were over 900 teachers that left their contract,” Wing said. “But that number spiked to over 1,300 last December…and out of that new 400, I think 350 were due to COVID.”

Wing added that despite the reasoning for leaving, COVID-19 or not, 75% to 80% of teachers that leave each year are certified and not new.

Former teacher and Vice President of the Arizona Education Association Marisol Garcia expanded on the difficulties teachers have when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 in schools. She cites the struggle that districts have dealing political agendas when it comes to following science and safety recommendations by health departments and medical professionals.

“If the priority is going to be on not following science and not following intuitions that are saying certain things need to happen in order to keep everyone in the building safe, why would you go into this profession?” Garcia said.

Garcia mentioned how teachers in some districts must use up vacation days when they contract the COVID-19 virus to go on leave and recover.

Garcia and Wing both stressed that the shortage was not brought on due to the pandemic. The problem has been ongoing for years.

The two main issues cited for the lack of aspiring teachers was funding for schools and teacher salaries, as well as the workload that comes with the job.

Currently, Arizona is 49th in country when it comes to education funding, and despite previous pay increases for teachers, the state has been stuck at the bottom for many years.

In 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a gradual 20% pay increase to teachers by 2020, but Wing explains how this can’t make up the troubles Arizona education has seen.

“I think 20% was a lot in three years, but what’s lost is there was a seven-year period where they didn’t get any or minimal,” Wing said. “So, if you add up 10 years that’s 2% per year, while already being so low in teacher pay.”

In terms of workload for teachers, Arizona is one of the worst in the country when it comes to teacher-to-student ratio. In Fall 2020, the state average was about 20 students for one teacher while the national average was 16 students.

Teachers are having to add extra classes to pick up the slack when others leave their positions. This can take away time to plan lessons or work with other teachers and students.

“You have veteran educators who are skilled…but they get about 40 minutes a day to plan, to work with colleagues, to research lesson plans, and that is now gone,” Garcia said. “And so, where does that time get made up? At the end of the school day or on the weekend.”

Jenna Moffitt, the current president of the ASPAA and deputy superintendent of human resources at Deer Valley Unified School District, believes education funding is the key to addressing the teacher shortage in Arizona.

“I believe it not only impacts the wages we are able to offer our staff, but it also impacts the moral, value, and reputation of the profession. In turn, those who desire to go into a profession to make a difference, may be discouraged to do so,” Moffitt said.

With the release of the survey, the ASPAA called on Arizona leaders to address this continuing issue for the betterment of Arizona.

“The severity of the teacher shortage must be addressed. Arizona’s leaders must make a collective effort to ensure the recruitment and retention of effective teachers through increased funding. Highly educated and skilled workforce are cornerstones to a growing and thriving economy,” the ASPAA wrote.

Editor’s Note: Zachary Davis is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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