PORTLAND, Ore. — This week, KGW has been focusing on the school staffing shortages that are putting a major strain on teachers and districts across Oregon, Washington and the country. On Monday, we looked at how we got to this point. Now we are seeking out what can be done to hopefully help the situation.
It’s clear that teachers are under a lot of stress and pressure. It was true before the pandemic but now it’s even worse. Many school districts are severely understaffed, teachers are burning out and the situation is not sustainable.
So where do we go from here? People working in the education world have both short-term and long-term solutions.
Nicole Butler-Hooton, a teacher of more than 15 years in Eugene and Oregon’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, has been on a special assignment.
“We're going out and supporting teachers who are new to the profession within the first three years or new to our district, or are teachers of color, and really setting a goal. We're using coaching for equity as a tool so that we can really coach up our teachers so they feel supported and valued,” said Butler-Hooton.
She’s a mentor to more than a dozen new teachers.
“Our hope would be that we will retain these teachers,” she said.
Attracting and retaining teachers
Attracting and retaining educators is an important piece of the puzzle. Anthony Rosilez, executive director at the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission said 40-50% of teachers leave the profession within three to five years. The rate is even higher for teachers of color.
“We're trying to think about how we train our administrators to be able to support their educators within the schools. We're trying to think about nontraditional pathways to licensure,” said Rosilez.
“The legislature is provided a little bit more money for the state's educator advancement council to help support grow your own programs,” Rosilez said.
Encouraging 'grow-your-own' programs
“Grow-your-own programs really help with retention in a couple ways. It gets people licensed, it provides them career paths, professional development. It plays nicely because these are already people in our system,” said Steve Nelson, the director of strategic initiatives for human resources at Salem-Keizer Public Schools.
He was also the former director of recruitment and staffing. While he was in that position, a lot of his time was spent on developing the district’s grow-your-own program, an initiative some districts have in place.
“The idea that you take people who are already in your system, so they might be students in your system, they might be employees in your system, and you provide them opportunities for professional growth,” said Nelson.
Watch Part 1 of our coverage on school staffing shortages:
Nelson said the concept has been around for many years. He said historically, grow-your-own programs were linked to grant money. So when the grant money dried up, programs would fizzle out. But it hasn’t been until somewhat recently that some districts, like Salem-Keizer, began developing it more and making changes to how programs were funded. Nelson said Superintendent Christy Perry made the decision to link the programs to general fund dollars instead of grant money.
“That's changed the landscape completely. Because what it does is it adds continuity and consistency to your programs. They don't start and stop, start and stop,” said Nelson.
“So, with these general fund dollars, we've been able to achieve consistency and that then actually start growing the number of programs that we have.”
One of those people who went through a grown-your-own program is Jessica Zamarron, a bilingual first and second-grade teacher at Swegle Elementary in Salem.
Swegle is where she went to school too and it’s where she discovered her passion in life.
“I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was in first grade. I had a wonderful first-grade teacher here at Swegle,” Zamarron said. “I felt like I kind of saw me in her, you know, her being a Hispanic teacher.”
Zamarron got a chance to start pursuing her dream when she was in high school.
“There was a program called the Teacher Cadet,” recalled Zamarron. “From the Teacher Cadet program, I was able to get a scholarship. So that helped me go through college.”
Nelson said there are numerous programs under the “grow-your-own” umbrella that encompass all sorts of staff and teaching positions.
“Some of our cohorts or programs, we pay up to $10,000 to get a person through school,” he said.
Zamarron is glad for the help. She was able to connect with a mentor and as a first-generation college student, also got help navigating the complex process of becoming a teacher.
“I think it's great for representation. It's great for mentorship,” said Zamarron.
It’s grow-your-own programs like the one at Salem-Keizer Public Schools … that education officials say will help teacher and staff recruitment in the long run. It’ll also help with diversifying the workforce so the community is reflected in teachers and staff members.
“We've put well over 100 teachers, special education teachers into our system because of our special education cohort. We've put dozens of bilingual teachers into our system because of our bilingual cohorts,” Nelson said.
Ideas from the Oregon Education Association
Oregon Education Association president Reed Scott-Schwalbach said in addition to grow-your-own programs, she has a few ideas of her own when it comes to more long-term solutions.
“Reducing the financial barriers that exist so that people can get into education prep programs and graduate without crushing loads of debt, increasing the supports for our BIPOC educators so that when they graduate and come into our school systems, they don't feel isolated and alone,” said Scott-Schwalbach.
As for short-term solutions, she said teachers need more time to prepare and it would be helpful if districts cut down on the number of staff meetings or other unnecessary obligations. Scott-Schwalbach also said districts should ask teachers and staff for creative solutions then implement those ideas. Not only would it potentially solve issues at their respective schools, it may help them feel more valued as a team member.
Teachers say value can be linked to compensation
Butler-Hooton, a Siletz and Apache tribal member, is also passionate about supporting diverse teachers through mentorship and affinity groups. In addition she mentioned the need for teacher education programs to prepare future teachers more for social and emotional needs of students. Butler-Hooton is also passionate about compensation for all teachers.
“Teachers deserve higher compensation for the work that they do every single day in and out of the classrooms,” she said.
A band-aid to help fill the need for substitute teachers
Advocacy for higher pay includes that of substitutes, another area districts are experiencing a shortage. For now, there is a band-aid through the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission's temporary emergency substitute license. To address the shortage, it eliminated the requirement for substitutes to have a bachelor’s degree, though it does require district sponsorship and oversight.
“As of right before Thanksgiving, we had 524 people who had applied for that emergency teaching license,” said Rosilez.
Even with the hundreds of applicants, there still a big need for substitutes. Rosilez said it’ll take time to go through the applications and get those substitute teachers into classrooms.