How to Combat the Challenges of Understaffed Elementary Schools
It’s November and many school districts are still limping along with unfilled teaching positions. These positions are often referred to as critical shortage areas. On the top of the list has always been openings in special education. Other positions include speciality areas such as math, science, music, and library. In the past, districts received hundreds of applications for one position. Educator preparation programs are seeing a decrease in enrollment which is impacting the number of applications. In rural places not only are they struggling to fill critical shortage positions, but regular education as well, There are many creative ways school districts are incorporating to help recruit and retain teachers in every area,
Critical shortage areas have always been challenging positions to fill. Many districts have added incentive pay to recruit teachers. Stipends or extended contracts are one way to meet the demands of the CBA. Special education teachers often have caseloads that are more demanding than what can be managed within a work day. Basically, this pays teachers for the additional hours they work. Housing stipends may fall into this category. Finding affordable housing on a teacher’s salary may be next to impossible. Some districts offer stipends to offset costs of housing and transportation.
State educational governance set the standards for teacher licensing. For example, in Montana, emergency licenses can be granted to individuals to fill positions. Anyone holds bachelor degrees (or not ) will be granted an emergency licensure and have three years to meet the licensing requirements to obtain a regular certificate.The one exemption is in special education. Districts will work around this by having a regular education teacher work with the special education teacher. Essentially, the special education teacher would be the one ultimately responsible for planning and ensuring that IEPs are reported and followed.
All educators are asked to do more and more. Many schools, especially rural schools start and end the year without positions filled. Teachers take on additional roles and duties to meet the needs of the district. From cleaning their own rooms, to adding an additional class period at a time with extra pay. Some districts have cen solicited past employees including retirees to re-enter the classroom or fill positions. This gives the appearance of being “piece milled” together to provide an adequate education. In these situations, some districts fail to meet accreditation standards and must apply for a variance and provide a plan for meeting the deficits.
Shortened Days and Remote Learning
Another way to recruit teachers is to look at alternative schedules. Some districts provide online resources to meet the diverse needs of all students. Four day school week may be a solution for many districts. State accreditation standards may count hours rather than days to account for a “year” to ease the burden.
These are just a few ideas that have proven to help districts to accomplish the task of educating all students. As stakeholders your understanding on this complex issue is important. As districts navigate these challenging situations, you can provide resources and solutions that are instrumental in the teaching and learning of both teachers and students alike.
Written by: Teresa Marchant
School Librarian at LOCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT 26
Teresa has been an educator for over 25 years. She holds a Master’s in Educational Technology with an emphasis in Online Instruction from Montana State University as well as a certificate in School Library Media from the University of Washington. Over the years she has served in many capacities at the state and local level. Highlights include being the Vice Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council to the Montana Board of Public Education, a member of the School Leadership Team and Chair of the Professional Development Committee for her school district, and a member of the Montana Library Association board. She loves learning and enjoys helping others!
Interested in learning more about the education market, or looking to contribute? We want to hear from you!