EDITORIAL: Finding the right formula to fix the teacher shortage

There’s a teacher shortage nationwide, but area public schools say they’re doing OK overall, with a few exceptions mostly regarding vacancies for specialized staff positions. Still, the factors that have produced this shortage remain a big concern and comments from education officials reveal that it takes a lot of planning to keep a full staff on board.

Record-Journal reporter Jessica Simms recently explored this topic, speaking with area public school administrators and researching trends and issues in hiring and retaining staff.  

In October, the Institute of Education Success reported that 45% of public schools had one or more vacant teaching positions. In Connecticut, a memo from education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker detailed shortage areas for the 2022-23 school year: school psychologists, special education teachers, and bilingual education teachers among others.

No surprise, the pandemic took its toll on teachers. According to an American Federation of Teachers member survey about the 2021-22 school year, 79 percent of teachers expressed dissatisfaction with their current work environment.

“Teachers were faced with so much stress trying to work the best that they could…” said state Sen. Jan Hochadel, D-Meriden, a former vo-tech school teacher who serves as statewide president of the AFT. “We saw so many teachers leave the profession or retire at the end of 2020, it was astonishing.” 

But the reality of large numbers of teachers saying “I quit” is nothing new. The AFT reports that, even before the pandemic, close to 300,000 teachers left the profession every year.

An overview, from Simms’ story, of the staffing status in local towns such as Cheshire, Wallingford, Southington and Meriden finds that shortages fall mainly in the domains of special education, substitutes and non-teaching staff. Most districts report only one or two vacancies in teaching jobs, in line with national figures. The districts also had hiring strategies in place and expressed overall optimism regarding filling those vacancies. 

In Meriden, the district partners with local colleges and universities to bring in interns, which can result in full-time employment for students after they graduate. This recruitment method makes hiring more productive for the district as these interns are known and already somewhat established in the schools. Meriden schools also use teacher development programs, giving aspiring individuals training in the classroom that can be put to use when a substitute is needed.

In Southington, an official told Simms that the district has retained and hired new teachers by offering competitive wages and not having a history of laying off employees. A Wallingford official said the district has a reputation as a good place to work and former students often come back as teachers. Districts also work to create career paths for paraprofessionals and other staff.

Simms writes that Frances Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, says the state Department of Education, the legislature, the governor, teachers’ unions and superintendents are working together to combat statewide teacher shortages. 

“We have a collaborative base there and many wise people that I think we can come up with some strategies to make this happen and put Connecticut in the forefront in intervention in the staff shortage,” Rabinowitz said. 

Clearly, some of those wise people are school officials in Meriden, Cheshire, Wallingford and Southington, who are successfully navigating hiring challenges.  

Hochadel noted that collaboration between teachers and the overall school community can make a difference. A good example of that approach is seen in Meriden schools. The central office team meets often with the teachers’ union to work on issues that need to be smoothed out, according to Simms’ story.

Speaking about teacher dissatisfaction, Hochadel listed the issues. “It’s the respect, not being treated like professionals, needing higher pay, better wages and improving working conditions ...” 

That’s a reasonable formula to follow for districts seeking to hire teachers. Our local districts are putting that formula into action and it’s paying off.  If the state’s “collaborative base” is looking for solutions, our area districts can help provide some answers.


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