Nationwide, public schools have struggled to retain and hire new teachers, creating a staffing shortage.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported in March that 44% of public schools were seeing higher than normal full- or part-time teaching vacancies, with 61% of school districts attributing the staffing shortage to the pandemic.
The US Department of Education reported that public schools in Connecticut are struggling the most in finding world language teachers along with specialists and psychologists.
“Where we struggle is the areas where there are limited teachers certified for that specific content area,” said Jeffrey Solan, Cheshire schools’ superintendent. “So, for example, if we were trying to hire somebody for a Latin opening, the numbers just aren’t there for that.”
Solan said the district does well filling positions such as for elementary school teachers where there are more qualified candidates.
When it comes to more specialized positions, the district uses a state Department of Education roster of all the people who hold a certification for the position they are looking to fill.
“It’s filtered by people who aren’t currently working in that certification area,” Solan said.
Along with that, Solan said they reach out to area colleges and universities that specialize in teaching the area of study they are looking for.
Both the Meriden and Southington school districts also have relationships with local colleges and universities that help with quickly filling vacancies.
“We have many partnerships with local universities placing student teachers and interns in our buildings, giving us early access to potential candidates, especially in shortage areas,” said Steven Madancy, Southington superintendent.
While Meriden administrator Louis Bronk said his district hasn’t faced a lot of struggles with hiring, he has noticed the trend of Connecticut teachers either leaving the state to teach or leaving the profession.
“While we have not seen a high number of those types of instances in Meriden, some of my colleagues from across the state have shared that these types of occurrences are fairly frequent in the past year,” said Bronk, assistant superintendent for personnel and talent development.
Gun violence and COVID-19 are two issues that “can keep you up at night,” Solan said.
Wallingford Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi said that while her district has been successful in hiring “well-qualified and committed teachers,” she has noticed the teacher shortage over the past three years, exacerbated by COVID-19.
“The past three years have been extraordinarily challenging for educators everywhere, as well as the students and their families,” Bellizzi said. “As with so many other professions, these challenges have caused a shortage of teachers coming through the college and university systems.”
In order to support teachers, Solan said Cheshire is providing training around mental health, threats and violence.
“Those little things don’t erase the anxiety, but they help address it to a degree,” Solan said.
In Meriden, Bronk said they are holding discussions on these topics to brainstorm ideas to support the staff.
“Having open and honest discussions on where staff and students stand with these topics and responding to the needs as they arise is extremely important,” Bronk said. “Our focus as a district has been to promote a culture in each school that is supportive and understands the needs of all stakeholders, including our staff.”
A teacher’s salary is also a reason for the teacher shortage, Madancy said.
“In some parts of the nation, I am not sure teacher pay is commensurate with the cost of living and demands of the job, (which) has become far more complex and multifaceted than even 10 years ago,” Madancy said. “Also, I think young professionals are considering the amount of student debt they might take on for a bachelor’s and master’s degree, which is required in Connecticut within a certain amount of time of obtaining employment, being much higher than a starting teacher’s salary.”
Years ago, even though teachers knew that the profession would have them earn “a modest living,” Madancy said teachers went into the profession because “they wanted to seek out careers they felt were rewarding and supportive.”
“Public education has come under so much scrutiny and attack by special interest and political groups these past couple of years that some feel the job is too stressful, thankless and less than rewarding,” Madancy said. “Gone are the days when it was a calling.”
While there are struggles, Solan said that being a teacher is a way to help children become problem solvers and quality people.
“We need as many of those folks in the world right now as we can,” he said. “So, it’s really a privilege to work in the field and to have that opportunity to shape our world in a more positive way.”