Districts across Kansas address teacher shortage with new school year starting

Districts across the state have been trying to hire at a time when the Kansas Department of Education predicts the worst teacher shortage.
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 6:56 PM CDT
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GREAT BEND, Kan. (KWCH) - Summer break is quickly ending for students across Kansas, with only days left before the 2022-23 school year starts.

In many districts, teachers are already back and laying the groundwork for the next nine to 10 months of learning. Heading into the school year, districts across the state have been trying to hire at a time when the Kansas Department of Education predicts the worst teacher shortage the state’s ever seen.

Across the U.S., schools are seeing their vacancy rates increasing. In Kansas, Great Bend is among the rural districts working to address the issue before students come back. For Great Bend Schools, hiring teachers for this school year is a process that started in December.

“Most of our teachers we hire before March, April, but then sometimes we get some later resignations. But those are the ones that are really hard to fill,” said Great Bend USD 428 Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Popp.

Popp said when the district has an opening, especially for licensed positions like teachers, there are fewer applications.

“A mixed bag for us because there’s been some people really seeing the value of working for education (because) it’s very stable. We’re going to have positions,” he said.

This adds more challenges in finding the right teachers for the classroom.

Popp said, “Some years I can’t find any elementary teachers and other years, I can’t find any secondary teachers. This last year we had a lot better luck finding elementary teachers than we did secondary teachers. Right now, I would say any teaching position is hard to fill.”

One of the biggest changes the district has made in the last several years is recruitment.

“Especially for teachers. I was recruiting licensed teachers from other communities, even out of state,” said Popp.

Now, he said, that strategy is staying close to home.

“What we’re doing now, especially for our licensed area, is taking people who are here and trying to help them grow into licensure, especially if we have someone who is a really good paraeducator or teacher’s aide that has a desire to become a teacher, people that are committed to our kids and been in the classroom and all they need is a little help to get the college and the training they need in order to become licensed. We’re really focused on moving those people,” Popp said.

Popp said that is also extending to the support staff like teacher aides and paras if they would want to become licensed at some point down the road.

He said the goal is to solve a more important issue of retention. Popp said one of the goals is to make the district someplace where people want to work and stay.

“Sometimes it’s money, but a lot of times its quality of life types of things and being recognized by their supervisor,” said Popp.

Last fall, the Kansas Teacher Retention Initiative started. It’s a partnership between Emporia State University and the Kansas Education Associations. This followed the state reporting a 62-percent increase in the rate of vacancies between the Fall of 2020 and 2021.

“Across the board, no matter what district you’re in, you’re hearing about this,” Emporia State University Associate Professor of School Leadership Dr. Bret Church said of the teacher shortage.

Dr. Church is one of the lead researchers with the initiative and completed a survey of about half of Kansas teachers earlier this year. He said one of the main factors in retention is what they call “engagement.”

“Engagement is, in essence, the lead measure of retention,” said Dr. Church. “Engagement really focuses on some key questions that we look at. Am I connected? Am I heard? Am I growing? Am I motivated? “We know that when teachers are engaged, they’re more likely to stay in the job they’re in, but they’re also contributing to a more positive climate and culture. Better classroom environments; student performance is better across the board.”

Dr. Church said some of the key factors of engagement are society’s view of the profession, the role of school administrators, salary, mental/emotional health and the ability to find substitute teachers.

Dr. Church said by having this data, the goal is to help change the tide. This is the first time this type of data has been collected.

“This is something we can identify and target and invest in to try to make better,” he said. “This information is clear about what we need to do, and it’s really about everyone understanding that and then designing their approach to try to improve those areas so the students will benefit across the state from being able to have quality teachers in each classroom.”

The retention survey found that 30 percent of teachers were more likely or very likely to leave or retire in the next three years.

“A big takeaway is we’re really looking at a crisis in Kansas with regards to being able to keep our teachers in the profession and the classroom,” said Dr. Church.

The initiative’s next step is to do surveys on a district level, so schools have more local data to work with, which will allow them to look at their districts to other comparable districts.

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