We do have a crisis, but it’s one that we can overcome

It’s already becoming October in another school year, except this one carries with it a weight that increases each year: there are more teacher vacancies. In June, the State Department of Education announced that there was a minimum of 700 vacancies across the state. To make matters worse, the pool for teachers is little or nonexistent.

According to EdJobs Idaho, there are 436 positions opened (as of September 30). Now, some of these positions are coaches, paraprofessionals, etc., but many are classroom teachers. All of these positions are crucial to the operations of a school but missing out on classroom teachers significantly impacts a school. It’s disheartening.

As dean of students at my school, I took a big role in hiring for this school year. Through this, I can attest to the lack of applicants. Our school was fortunate to get all of our classroom positions filled, but there were not many options. We were lucky that the ones who did apply fit well into our school. However, there weren’t any options if something went haywire and we ended up down a teacher. I’m not sure we would have been able to find anyone to fill it.

Even with our classrooms filled, we still have open positions. We were hoping to get a part-time Spanish teacher. It’s not a major detriment to the day-to-day, but it does take away teacher prep time. This leads to less prepared and supported teachers and feeds into burnout. This is part of the problem with teacher shortages, why go into a profession that doesn’t show the respect one deserves?

Idaho has tried to think of solutions to this growing issue. They attempted to pass a bill in 2021 that would allow districts to certify teachers if they met a few standard requirements. This was not helpful because none of the requirements had anything to do with a teaching degree or teacher prep program.

However, in 2022, the state did pass Senate Bill 1291 that gave power to charter schools to certify a teacher. A charter school can now certify a teacher, but that certification does not extend beyond that charter school. As a school who has used this to certify a teacher, it is helpful, but it isn’t the best solution or a long-term one. One of the biggest issues facing teachers is the pay.

Right now, according to World Population Review, Idaho ranks 37th for average teacher pay, coming in right around $54,000. Now Idaho has been working and slowly increasing those wages for teachers over the years, but it still doesn’t feel enough. I have always had to dip into my own money to purchase thing for my students. Not to mention Idaho’s cost of living continues to grow, especially in terms of housing costs.

It’s no wonder that teachers are hesitant to come to Idaho. We don’t show them the respect they deserve. As I’ve entered my sixth year in education here, I have felt that lack of respect. I came into this profession to educate students and help ensure every student has the ability to access the future they choose. Unfortunately, the barriers get higher and more cumbersome to overcome.

There is no silver bullet to fix this issue. The pool’s been leaking slowly, now we are realizing we don’t have any more water coming down the pipe. We need to take aggressive and immediate steps to find a new water source. Legislatures can allocate more money to schools, especially to teacher pay and benefits. School leaders can do their best to help support and provide time and resources to teachers. Families, tell a teacher thank you and have their back. It means the world when families support teachers.

We do have a crisis, but it’s one that we can overcome, in time. For now, let’s make those changes to keep teachers here, and we’ll slowly grow that pipeline once again.

 

Austin Ambrose

About Austin Ambrose

Austin Ambrose is dean of students at Forge International School in Middleton, Idaho. He previously taught elementary school at a school in Nampa, Idaho. In his current position, Austin is responsible for building strong school culture and providing emotional/behavioral support for students.

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