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Education

Teacher Shortage in Illinois

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US Department of Education
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Although the numbers vary, they seem to agree that there's a teacher shortage in Illinois, and it's possibly getting worse thanks to the pandemic.

The latest annual study by the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents found that of the districts responding to its survey, 77 per cent believe they have a teacher shortage problem. Many districts report positions either unfilled or filled with someone less than qualified. And 93 per cent say they can't find enough substitute teachers.

Tammy Muerhoff is the Regional Superintendent for Rock Island County. And she says the problemn here is similar to the rest of the state.

"There were three in particular areas of specialization that continue to be a problem to fill the vacancies. And those are bi-lingual education, early childhood special education, and school counselors. Those continue to be a pervasive issue to fill those vacancies."

Jay Morrow, superintendent of the United Township District in East Moline says it's not a new problem.

"For example if we had a social studies position maybe 10 or 15 years ago it was pretty common that we'd get 50 to 100 applications depending on the time of the year. And now you're lucky to have 15 to 20, if that, depending on the school district - that's United Township's example. Numbers are really low especially in math, science, and special education."

Moline Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources, Todd De Taeye, agrees the number of applicants is down.

"I don't think it's an issue for us in terms of finding qualified people to hire. What we're seeing in our district is that the number of individuals in the applicant pool has decreased significantly. So with that being said, it's the quality within that pool becomes a bit more difficult to find."

He thinks the problem is probably worse for smaller and rural districts. And both agree the real shortage is in some specialized areas - special education, counselors and social workers, and bi-lingual education.

Morrow says fewer young people are training to be teachers.

"For example I think if you talk to people at Western Illinois University - they typically have over 1,000 students a year that are certified in high school, regardless of whether it's social studies, English, or language arts. And they're under 500 now, if that. So the numbers are staggeringly low at your traditional teacher prep colleges."

So what to do ?

Egan Colbrese, is the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for the Rock Island School District. He says the state has already taken some steps to alleviate the teacher shortage.

"If you're certified at all in any state, that is all you need where you can apply and get a license in Illinois and start teaching in Illinois. So they've made that process much, much easier in the last several years."

Regional Superintendent Muerhoff says the Illinois State Board of Education has also looked at alternatives.

"If folks have a bachelor's degree in a particular content area they could work with a university to move through the courses and the requirements in order to become trained as an educator, and thus licensed as an educator in the state of Illinois."

De Taeye says another way for Illinois school districts to reduce the teacher shortage would be to improve pay and benefits. Morrow from U.T. agrees.

"For a lot of students of limited means, if you're going to borrow 50 to 100,000 dollars in student debt, and a starting teacher makes 30 to 35,000 dollars around here, it's going to take you a long time to get out of that debt."

Making the problem worse during the past year in Illinois has been the pandemic. But there is a bright side to that, according to Colbrese from Rock Island.

"We're online which has opened up job fairs that everybody has access to them. Before you had to physically go to a job fair, whereas now all our job fairs are online which allows us to have access to so many more job fairs than we used to. So the pandemic has actually helped in that area and has forced schools to really beef up techniques and strategies so that we are catching up with the times."

All three administrators agree we can help solve the problem of a teacher shortage in Illinois.

(Cobrese) "Schools sometimes get a bad rap of why would I want to be a teacher. And it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the nation, if not in the world. It is tough work but it's extremely rewarding and very, very important. I think as a community just constantly supporting your school system and supporting every one of your school employees just is a big step on getting people to want to get into this field."

(Morrow) "I personally feel that COVID has really raised, I hope it has raised, the respect level for teachers throughout the country because parents are home with their children, and seeing what teachers deal with on a day to day basis and the importance of quality instruction."

(De Taeye) "It's real. We're definitely having to think differently and change some of our procedures to address some of the challenges we're seeing even though we're still able to hire and fill positions."

That was Moline Assistant Superintendent Todd De Taeye, United Township Superintendent Jay Morrow, and Rock Island Assistant Superintendent Egan Colbrese.