By Sara Tischauser
The Seymour Community School District like many other schools in the area is facing a teacher shortage.
Laurie Asher, SCSD superintendent, said there have been teacher shortages over the years, but the current shortage has broadened to include shortages of more teachers.
“Five years ago shortage was in a couple of areas like tech education and business,” Asher said. “In last five years this has drastically changed for all positions.”
She said that when the school used to post a position they would get around 400 applications turned in and now they are down to 30-40 applications per position.
This decrease in available teachers, Asher believes is because of numerous reasons.
“Public perception of teachers has changed,” Asher said.
While she said parents still really enjoy their child’s teachers and understand all the work that teachers do, teachers are no longer held in the same esteem as previously. Younger children see this change in perception and don’t necessarily want to go into the teaching field because of it.
Another impact Asher sees on people going into the teaching field is how expensive the education can be.
“Students coming out of college with such large debt that the teaching salary is not enough that they feel they can pay off this debt,” Asher said. “So they are looking for higher paying beginning wage jobs because of that rise in student debt.”
In addition, Asher said the demands of teaching are great with lesson plans and preparing for the school day.
“Before I think having summers off and great benefits was the equalizer and I don’t think that is true anymore,” Asher said. “I think that the salaries have decreased or have not continued to grow enough to offset the other assets of being a teacher.”
Also, Asher said there is the ongoing cost to teachers to maintain their teaching license. In the past, many school districts paid for this but she said many districts no longer pay this ongoing cost for their teachers.
Another change has been in the retirement benefits at most schools.
“Many districts don’t provide post retirement benefits anymore or a lesser post retirement benefit than in past,” Asher said.
To help encourage current students to consider a career in the teaching field Asher said they are starting a new student organization in the fall called Educators Rising.
This new organization is meant for students interested in teaching to give them hands on experience while in high school to see if teaching is a career they will want to pursue post high school.
Asher said they are also working to find those in the community who have the expertise in a field and want to teach but don’t have a teaching degree and provide them the opportunity to teach. She said they consider this “growing our own” when it comes to teachers.
Wisconsin allows districts to provide a three year license to someone who has a bachelor’s degree and expertise in an area but doesn’t have a teaching license. She said during the three years the school provides a professional development program and after the three years the person can be certified to teach in a given area.
Currently Seymour has a technology education teacher and a middle school teacher that are doing this. The benefit to this is that the school can find teachers who have the knowledge in a given area.
“Those teachers that have taken the nontraditional licensing route to get here, put more strain on the administration, the colleagues they work with and the school district in general,” Asher said. “[Previously] they would come to us trained. Now it’s our responsibility to do that. That takes more time, more financial resources and more human resources. It’s worth it because we will have highly qualified teachers.”
Another issue facing districts is the ability to keep current teachers. Asher said teachers are much more mobile now than in past.
“The current educators are much more mobile, that is another change we are seeing,” Asher said. “This new group of graduates are much more motivated to be mobile and may only stay three or four years.”
Reasons for this mobility Asher said are teachers wanting to move back to hometown area or to make more money or to move to a more suburban area.
Because of the shortage there are many more options available to teachers.
“I think teachers are much more marketing themselves than they have in the past and looking at and keeping options open,” Asher said. “They do have more opportunities now because there are fewer teachers. The really high quality teachers are more in demand.”
The shortage also has been seen with the substitute teachers.
“Our substitute pool is very small now,” Asher said. “I think many of our substitutes are retired teachers who are coming back to work.”
Having retired teachers as substitute teachers provides quality teachers in the district, but does come with some limitations.
“Because of some of the rules in relation to being a retired teacher, they have limited number of days they can work,” Asher said. “They are limited to the number of days they can work. Instead of being able to work every day they may be limited to only being able to work 10 days out of the month.”
So she said in addition to having a limited number of substitute teachers some of these teachers can also only work a limited number of days.
This limitation is because if retired teachers go over the set amount of days they can’t receive their Wisconsin retirement benefits.
The district continues to look at ways to increase their pool of substitute teachers.
“I think the first thing is every time we do have a position that we post, we encourage the people who apply to at least sub for us if they don’t get position,” Asher said.
Also, she said they are looking at new groups of people who may be able to be substitutes.
“We have really done marketing around people who have bachelor’s degrees,” Asher said. “We can get them a substitute teaching license and then they can sub. We are starting to look at the people who are not educators and don’t have educator’s license to get them into subbing.”
The competition for substitute teachers is felt between area districts and Asher said this is something they have to account for when it comes to the substitute teacher wage.
“We try to financially support our subs,” Asher said. “Compared to other schools in the area we have a good daily rate.”
Making their substitutes teachers feel comfortable, Asher said is also very important.
“We try to introduce [substitutes] to a building and make sure the teachers they are working with are always checking in on them,” Asher said. “Because when they get more comfortable in a building they are more likely to return.”
On days when there are not enough substitutes to cover, Asher said the district looks at ways to make sure all classes are covered. This may include other teachers covering classes during their prep times, but they always try to find ways to find coverage for all classes. She said on rare occasions they may take a class and divide the students up into other classes.
Asher said if anyone with a bachelor’s degree is interested in subbing in the district they should contact Daneen Hansen, administrative assistant, at (920) 833-2304 ext. 502 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. She said each person has a unique situation and they will look at what the best option is for each person.
“My biggest concern is still the idea that we have highly qualified teachers in front of kids,” Asher said. “We want the best teachers in front of our kids.”