Some US districts face shortage of teachers as school begins

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As American students return to their classrooms this year, some may find fewer teachers waiting to greet them.

Many schools in the United States — particularly in places with growing populations and difficult working conditions — are having an especially tough time getting enough teachers to fill all their jobs. Districts say they’re struggling the most in areas like math, science, special education and foreign languages.

Low pay, more mandatory tests, funding cuts and what some educators feel are more demands from policymakers are among the reasons cited by departing teachers, and by administrators trying to replace them. In the scramble, some teachers are taking on new subjects.

Some school districts have been trying new approaches. The Clark County School District in Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has offered bonuses, sent recruiters to colleges and job fairs around the country, and launched a “Calling All Heroes” campaign that included billboards in Times Square to fill its hundreds of vacancies.

The number of first-time teacher licenses issued in Indiana has dropped nearly 20 percent since 2009, state officials said. In Kansas, at least 3,720 teachers left the state, retired or took jobs outside education this past school year, up more than 70 percent from a couple of years ago, Kansas Department of Education data show.

Part of the exodus may be demographics, such as the retirement of Baby Boomers. And many teachers who stayed put during the recession may now be leaving for better-paying jobs outside education. Mike Wood, government relations director for the Missouri State Teachers Association, attributes some of the shortages to low salaries and tougher state exams for new teachers.

Some former teachers say an increase in mandatory testing and a sense of hostility from lawmakers has crushed morale. Recent Oklahoma measures are designed to increase rigor as well as imposing a grading system for schools that many teachers and administrators felt was unfair. But per-pupil funding has kept declining, and teachers haven’t received a pay raise in nearly a decade.

“We used to be treated as professionals who were allowed to have autonomy in our classrooms and play to our strengths or our background or education,” said Rebecca Simcoe, a high school English teacher in Tulsa with a doctorate who resigned last year to do nonprofit work. “Now we’re expected to be automatons following their robotic instructions, just getting these kids to pass tests.”

Robert Sigrist, assistant principal at Central High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, said the school struggled to find a replacement after its physics teacher moved to Texas. As the start of classes approached, the district was still trying to fill a special education slot. But experts caution that many states still produce more teachers for the number of available jobs, so it’s a matter of attracting them to teach in specific grades and subjects.

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