DeKalb County Opinion

Guest view: The teacher shortage is real

I have been fortunate to spend 22 years in the school human resources role. More recently, I have also been working as the executive director of the Illinois Association of School Personnel Administrators representing more than 560 educational human resources professionals in Illinois. We are here to tell you: The teacher shortage is real.

At the start of my career, it was so easy to find teachers in some areas (looking at you, high school English and PE) that filling vacancies was not a worry. The landscape has completely changed. Join any group of educational human resources folks, and you will hear us worrying about staffing shortages. We search high and low to find qualified candidates for all our positions – traveling to job fairs and posting our jobs on sites far and wide. While some districts are struggling to find a single, great candidate for a position, other districts are forced to go without. Whether it is an elementary art position or a high school science position, there are classrooms in Illinois where students do not have the benefit of a qualified teacher … all year long.

The statistics are alarming. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 53% of public schools reported being understaffed entering the 2022-23 school year. Nearly 20% of teachers leave their positions within the first three years, and about 40-50% leave within the first five years. This turnover not only disrupts continuity in classrooms but also places a significant strain on school resources as we continue to invest in recruitment and retention of new talent.

Furthermore, we know the pandemic exacerbated this issue. The challenges of remote learning, concerns about health and safety, and the overall stress of the past couple of years have driven even more teachers out of the profession. How could this not impact students’ decision to go into the field of education? It’s no wonder that enrollment in teacher preparation programs has been declining steadily, indicating a shrinking pipeline of new educators entering the field.

As educational leaders, it is our responsibility to address these systemic issues and create an environment where teachers feel respected, valued and adequately compensated for their contributions. This requires a multi-faceted approach that encompasses policy reforms, increased investment in education, and innovative strategies to attract and retain educators.

This year’s Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools survey on the teacher shortage indicates that while schools are making encouraging progress in filling classrooms, more work needs to be done.

IASPA is working hard to be part of the solution.

We routinely offer professional learning to help combat the teacher shortage. This year’s annual conference in January included six breakout sessions related to hiring, retention, the educator pipeline, student teachers and creating pathways to teaching.

Our April 26 online Administrator Academy, “Managing Bias In Hiring-Inclusive Hiring Practices,” aimed to ensure that hiring administrators are trained to manage a fair and equitable hiring process.

Since 2022, IASPA has hosted the Illinois Virtual Educator Job Fair, an opportunity for school districts and candidates to connect in a synchronous, online fashion without needing to be out of the office or incur the expenses of travel. Our March 6, 2024, job fair included more than 1,200 candidates!

The teacher shortage is a complex issue that requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. By investing in our teachers and administrators, supporting their professional growth, and advocating for policy reforms, we can build a stronger future for all kids in Illinois.

• Kimberly Chambers serves as executive director of IASPA and is director of human resources at Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125 in Lincolnshire.