Daily Press (Sunday)

Teachers wanted

Filling Virginia’s teacher vacancies will require more money and support


In Hampton Roads and across Virginia and the United States, a shortage of teachers is jeopardizi­ng the quality of education of our children. With many veteran teachers nearing retirement age, the situation is likely to get worse — and unlikely to improve without some innovative policy solutions and financial incentives at the state and local levels.

How bad is it? In Virginia, there were slightly more than 1,000 teacher vacancies during the year before COVID disrupted everything. Last school year, that number had more than tripled, to nearly 3,600. The problem is particular­ly bad here in the Tidewater and on the Eastern Shore: In this region, the vacancy rate is about 6.2% of positions, while statewide the rate is about 4%. Unfilled positions mean more work falls on current teachers, making burnout even more likely.

Virginia finds itself battling other states to attract good teachers. Within Virginia, local school districts compete with one another for the limited talent pool.

The pandemic has been a major factor, of course. Teaching, never an easy job, became even more stressful. A number of veteran teachers decided that early retirement or a career change would be better than continuing under such difficult conditions.

Even without the spur of COVID, though, many teachers were already dissatisfi­ed and thinking about bailing out.

Teaching has long demanded more and paid less than many other profession­s. Prospectiv­e teachers take rigorous courses in college, do student teaching stints and navigate a complicate­d licensure procedure.

To keep the license current, teachers must take more courses and workshops for profession­al developmen­t.

Teachers are well educated profession­als, but they are paid poorly compared to people in other jobs that require comparable preparatio­n. Many teachers also feel that they are not respected and valued as profession­als.

Today’s contentiou­s and divided society makes matters worse. Teachers are caught up in the battles about what can be taught and how. Even as many parents demand more say-so about such things as curriculum, library books and gender identity,

parental support for teachers’ efforts to educate children and maintain order can be lacking. Discipline can be a real challenge.

The list goes on. Teachers must take on many extra duties not directly related to teaching and their jobs require a lot of preparatio­n, grading and other work done on their own time.

Amid all the well-publicized problems and disputes, it’s little wonder that fewer young people today want to become teachers.

What can be done to attract new teachers and retain experience­d ones? On the state level, more competitiv­e salaries and generous bonuses are one obvious answer. The 10% salary bump for teachers delivered over the last two years helps, but legislator­s should not let compensati­on be a place to skimp at budget time.

Virginia teacher salaries are below the national average, and teachers in Virginia typically earn about 32% less than college-educated workers in other fields — one of the worst “pay gaps” in the nation.

Generous longevity pay might help persuade veteran teachers to stay in the classroom. Streamlini­ng the certificat­ion process and making it more flexible could help. Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow and other “grow your own” programs that attract, mentor and help prepare high school students to become teachers should be expanded.

At the local level, school districts should strive to improve working conditions, keep extra duties to a minimum and treat teachers as valued profession­als. When possible, local bonuses to supplement salaries are a plus. Strong volunteer programs and other efforts can improve support for teachers and free them to focus more on the job they prepared for.

Parents and members of the community can play an important role, starting with treating teachers with respect — and encouragin­g children to do likewise.

Good public education is essential for the futures of our children, our communitie­s and the nation. We expect a great deal of teachers; we should be willing to pay them accordingl­y, and we should treat them with the respect these skilled profession­als deserve.

 ?? STAFF ?? Fourth grade teacher Natalie Wells laughs while talking with students virtually during the first day of school at Jane H. Bryan Elementary School in Hampton in 2020.
STAFF Fourth grade teacher Natalie Wells laughs while talking with students virtually during the first day of school at Jane H. Bryan Elementary School in Hampton in 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States