The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) is releasing its annual 2020 Illinois Educator Shortage survey now. IARSS Consultant Jeff Tarr recently sat down with IARSS President Mark Klaisner for a wide-ranging discussion about the shortage survey, and we present here a number of audio clips and segments for your listening and use.
Full audio podcast interviews are available here:
We are also including here some smaller segments and soundbites, with short narratives to help listeners better understand the survey and its policy implications. Audio soundbites can be downloaded in full here, or at each link below:
The latest Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) survey of teacher shortage challenges around the state is out, and the results again are sobering. IARSS President Mark Klaisner says the problem is clearly a crisis across the state:
• “This year, not surprisingly, the numbers continue to be dramatic, if not drastic, and we’re very, very concerned. The crisis continues, and in fact, is worsening.”
• “We find that 77 percent of schools report that they have a teacher shortage problem. 93 percent of schools report that they have a problem finding substitute teachers. All in all, we’re finding that 17 percent of schools are trying to fill positions either with someone who is not qualified for the position, or they can’t fill it at all.”
• “The IARSS educator shortage survey report found that over 250 classes were canceled this year, and nearly 200 additional courses were moved online because administrators could not find educators. All in all, we’re finding that we don’t have the educators we need to be in front of our kids.”
• “Even though this has been a crisis for years, 86 percent of our schools indicate that they anticipate the teacher shortage crisis to continue, and it was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.”
• “Clearly, the field sees this as a crisis. They see it as worsening, and on top of that, they don’t see it correcting itself anytime in the near future.”
IARSS President Mark Klaisner reports the group’s latest statewide educator shortage survey has an even bigger challenge this year: COVID-19.
• “Substitute teachers, some are not willing to come back into the buildings based on a number of different situations related to the pandemic. But even if it wasn’t about a health reason, so many of our schools have taken on hybrid and remote learning situations, which means a substitute teacher would have to understand the technology, they’d have to understand the platforms that are being used, the whole idea of distance learning. It’s a whole different ballgame.”
The pandemic has forced schools to adapt many ways, from shifting learning online to getting kids to and from school safely, to meeting other needs and demands. Those results are reflected in this year’s shortage survey, Klaisner notes.
• “Even though the teacher shortage crisis has been present for years, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation. 37 percent of schools were looking to hire more teachers. 40 percent of schools were looking to hire additional paraprofessionals.”
COVID also created an unusual challenge for schools, Klaisner says. As the need to keep students apart grew, the need for teachers also grew – but many were not comfortable stepping in.
• “We found that as school districts were trying to be creative in their service delivery to students, sometimes that meant parallel programs – a hybrid program and an in-person program and a remote learning program. As you offer more opportunities, that requires more educators. So the demand was going up while the supply has been trickling off.”
• “When we talk about physically distanced classrooms, students need a six-foot radius around them, which means you have less students in the room, which means you have to have more rooms, which means you have to have more adults. So as you spread students out, you’re keeping students safe, which our educators are committed to. As they keep students safe by creating physical distance, you need more space or you need more people to help either monitor, instruct, engage students.”
• “Yes, we could have probably doubled the number of educators in Illinois to adequately students if they were available and the resources were accessible to us as educators.”
And in-classroom teachers weren’t the only ones in need, Klaisner cautions.
• “We knew that many of our districts couldn’t triple the number of buses, but they were doing multiple routes so they were doing multiple schedules. Again, we were looking for bus drivers as well as paraprofessionals, and we’ve had a school nurse shortage as well. You can imagine the high demand for medical professionals in our schools as well.”
Substitute teachers – already an area of extreme shortage – have proven to be another challenge during pandemic educating, Klaisner says.
• “Many of our substitutes are retired teachers who are committed to education and committed to students but find themselves in an age bracket where they are more concerned about the pandemic and about their own health, or about their family and their colleagues. And so some people who have traditionally shown up to be substitutes are electing not to at this point in time.”
But for all of the challenges that the survey reveals, Klaisner says he’s equally proud of and amazed by the dedication of thousands of Illinois educators who have stepped up to meet the challenges of the last year.
• “I don’t think anybody was better equipped to nimbly respond to a crisis like COVID-19.”
• “I am so impressed at how schools and educators have responded to kind of the changing landscape as we go, and always focusing on student safety.”
• “From Carbondale to Rockford, from Galena to Decatur, educators have responded in amazing ways to keep our kids safe and to provide for multiple needs.”
• “We’ve seen miraculous situations where school districts have responded to a flood or a tornado, and yet those are a moment in time, and so we help heal and come back. Now we’re talking about a year to 15 months of these same kinds of conversations which are really challenging.”
Klaisner also credits the hard work of the Illinois State Board of Education and IARSS members around the state to get schools quickly the financial aid and safety support they needed to keep things on track:
• “No one has 1.7 million dollars sitting in their budget waiting for a global pandemic to show up. So I’m very appreciative of the State Board of Education in particular for turning around the money as quickly as possible and getting it to schools.”
WHAT’S NEXT: POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
IARSS has conducted the teacher shortage survey for several years now. With many indicators showing the problem worsening, it could be easy to be discouraged. But IARSS President Mark Klaisner said the ongoing shortage challenges that have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic also create new opportunities.
• “There are a lot of things that we are learning that are telling me that we don’t go back to normal as we knew it, but we create a better normal for our kids, for our staffs, for our communities. I want to remain hopeful that there’s a lot of learning as we can share going into this spring and especially into the fall that schools should look new, different, and better.”
Educators statewide now have a new view into the challenges that slow the teacher pipeline: from reaching young people to steer them into the field, to helping those who already working there as a support staff paraprofessionals get qualified and licensed to be full-time teachers, to ensuring a more diverse pool of teaching candidates statewide. Klaisner says there is tremendous potential to build on what has happened in these areas over the last year.
• “We found a large number of paraprofessionals who have proven themselves in the educational environment and are very interested in seeking a profession in teaching, and there have been some seemingly insurmountable hurdles – things like having to step out of employment to go to school, or the cost of higher education, the logistics and the time.”
• “We’re looking at how do we start as early as 14, 15, 16 years old, getting people in our high schools looking at the teaching profession and starting the pipeline there, and having students excited about possibly being teachers.”
• “We’ve always looked to bridge those gaps to a more diverse candidate pool. We know that kids benefit when they have a diverse teaching staff in front of them and when they can learn from people who look like them and understand them and share their cultures.”
Klaisner predicts stronger partnerships that formed out of necessity during the COVID-19 education crisis can and should carry over to address the longer-term systemic teacher shortages.
• “The pipeline is an issue in terms of making sure that we are supporting teacher candidates and even recruiting at early ages. We have a very strong commitment to looking at diversifying the teacher candidate pool as well, so we’re looking at ways for scholarship monies, looking for alternate pathways.”
• “We’re always stronger together. The Regional Offices are here trying to help share that burden as we work toward being more efficient, getting out the most accurate information, and trying to do the very best we can to create safe environments particularly for the kids and families, our staffs, our districts and our communities.”