1 in 4 Arizona teaching positions are (still) vacant. Are we ready to stop this trend?
Opinion: 730 teachers also left a few weeks into the school year, further disrupting learning. If we want to catch kids up, this is not the way to do it.
Arizona’s teacher shortage hasn’t gotten any better since the pandemic.
And that’s not good for students. Or, well, anyone.
The latest teacher vacancy survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association reveals some troubling trends when compared to fall 2019, before the pandemic upended education.
More schools are having trouble filling teacher positions. Nearly 26% – or roughly 1,700 positions – were vacant a few weeks into the school year, compared to nearly 21% (or about 1,444 positions) in 2019. And that’s despite there being nearly 400 fewer positions to fill from 2019 to 2021.
Schools are increasingly turning to temporary help. The use of long-term substitutes and those with pending or emergency teaching certificates has grown markedly since 2019. Long-term subs increased by 45% since 2019 (from 525 positions to 763 now), while teachers with pending or emergency certificates – those that either don’t have the appropriate certification yet, or have a temporary certificate to fill an emergency need – increased 22% (from 1,686 to 2,063 in 2021).
More teachers left after the school year started. A whopping 730 teachers severed their employment after school started this fall, compared to 427 in 2019 – creating last-minute vacancies that can disrupt learning and are often even more difficult to fill. As in years past, roughly 78% of those who left had standard teaching certificates, which tend to be the more experienced faculty.
We need quality teachers to catch kids up
The semiannual survey is important because it is administered at the same time, using the same questions, over multiple years, with a consistent response rate from most of the state’s largest and mid-size districts.
That makes it relatively representative of what’s happening, particularly in metro areas.
Yet these latest results aren’t markedly different from what we saw last fall, when many students were still learning remotely and some schools were facing teacher walk-outs.
And that’s the last thing we need, considering how much academic growth has been lost since 2019.
Because the research is clear: The best way to make academic gains is to ensure that every student has a highly effective teacher.
If we’re serious about catching kids up, the teacher shortage should be a priority.
These ideas were a good start, but we need more
We were doing some good things before the pandemic to improve retention and recruitment. Many schools were investing in mentorship programs, so newer teachers could get help from more experienced ones during the school day, as they taught.
The Arizona Teachers Academy, which reimburses college tuition for those who agree to teach in Arizona schools after graduation, also has continued to grow.
Roughly 950 teachers completed the program in 2020-21, up from 800 or so the previous year.
But teachers are wearing even more hats now than they were before the pandemic. And there is a lot of pressure and politics bearing down on schools.
That is clearly taking a toll.
So, how do we reverse it?
A 2017 report revealed that while many Arizona teachers wanted better pay, that wasn’t the only thing that determined how long they would stick around. Teachers wanted more respect, more connections to their colleagues and more chances to grow and put their skills to work.
I doubt that’s changed much.
Are we ready to rethink things?
If we want to erase the teacher shortage, we need to talk about workload.
We need to give highly effective teachers the latitude – and resources – to run with ideas that can shore up skills in their students (after all, teachers know their academic needs best).
We need to take down the walls (literally and figuratively) that keep people out of schools, so neighbors have more of a stake in and connection to what’s being taught.
I could go on. And, yes, I realize this is going to require more than just a token program here or there. We’ll need to rethink how we fund schools and what we expect of teachers and those that support them.
But if we want to regain the academic growth that was lost, what do we have to lose?
Now is the time to get radical – by doubling down on the basics, the things we know work.
We. Need. Highly. Effective. Teachers. In. Classrooms.
And we can’t wait.