Teaching vacancies rise at Shelby County schools

It’s been just over a month since school started and more than 200 teaching positions at Shelby County schools remain vacant.

The Memphis District started the school year with 217 unfilled teaching positions on Aug. 9, and that number rose to 227 on Monday, district human resources chief Yolanda Martin said. This represents a dramatic increase in vacancies from this time last year, when the district had just 63 vacancies on the first day of school.

The rise in openings follows a wave of teacher resignations. Since May, 367 district educators have resigned from their positions, Martin told school board members at a committee meeting on Monday. The district saw a similar number last year: 389 teachers quit in the 2019-20 school year.

As schools across the country enter their third consecutive pandemic school year, the nationwide teacher shortage is intensifying, fueled by pandemic-related burnout and retirements, as well as by the decline in the number of students interested in pursuing a teaching career.

In a poll last month, the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the United States, found that nearly one in three teachers said COVID had made them more likely to quit or retire. anticipated. With many school buildings closing and classes moving to Zoom over the past two school years, educators and students have had to find new ways to teach and learn.

It’s not immediately clear what role the pandemic played in educators’ decisions to leave the Memphis district. Board member Stephanie Love asked if the district is offering an exit survey.

“Have you seen any common trends where this would make you sit and think maybe we need to change this, let me tell somebody, or how can we maybe support teachers more so that they don’t leave?” she asked.

The most common reason teachers gave in exit surveys, Martin said, was looking for a new job opportunity, though many former employees gave no reason to leave, the data shows. of the district.

“What we do know is that this is a labor market,” Martin said, noting that the district continues to prioritize offering incentives to help retain staff and prevent them from seeking employment elsewhere.

“[The data] roughly mirrors what we’ve seen in the past, but obviously not to this magnitude right now,” Martin said. “So we can suspect what it might be, but based on the data we have, those are the leading indicators right now.”

To retain remaining educators, the district is offering continuing professional development, 2% annual raises, and new teacher induction programs, among many other tactics. Using data, Martin said the district also tracks which schools are having the most trouble retaining teachers so they can find ways to offer more support to school staff and leaders. .

While the district can fill vacancies with substitute teachers — for now — Martin outlined several strategies to continue recruiting educators throughout the school year.

Shelby County schools have already hosted eight virtual and six in-person job fairs for the 2021-22 school year; the district will offer another hiring event later this year for December graduates, Martin said. In total, Shelby County schools employ about 6,000 teachers, according to the district’s website.

Additionally, Martin said, the district has shifted from a “hiring season” just before the school year to a year-round recruiting strategy. This effort has involved increased marketing online and through television ads, and continued support for programs dedicated to long-term teacher growth, such as Teach for America or Memphis Teaching Residency.

“We recruit year-round,” Martin said. “We have to because we have to keep plugging our leaky bucket.”

Leave a Reply