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Dealing with teacher shortages as students head back to school

Many students head back into the classrooms this week. In many districts, fewer teachers will be joining them.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Tiffany Remington was once awarded "Teacher of the Year." She loved her job and did it well for almost a decade. But last year, Remington left her teaching post in Florida and moved back home to Tunkhannock to work for an insurance company.

"It was just too much. After COVID, they expected a lot more of teachers. In Florida, they don't pay very well. I wasn't able to support myself at all. It just wasn't enough to survive."

It's a familiar refrain, and it's why many people are leaving the education field in droves. Riverside School District Superintendent Paul Brennan says the number of applicants for all positions has dropped off dramatically over the last five to ten years. 

A decade ago, Pennsylvania certified about 20,000 teachers in a year. Last year, that number was down to 6,000.

"Kids aren't as concerned about some of the traditional benefits that used to be enticing for people to get into education. One of the root causes is the underfunding of public school districts. It's hard to balance a budget and still provide enticing opportunities for the employees that work in the school district."

In the Old Forge School District, the teacher roster was full for this school year up until last week. Old Forge Superintendent Erin Keating says one of her teachers resigned on Monday, and now she's rushing to hire someone new. 

At a time when substitute teachers are in severely short supply, losing just one full-timer can pose a major problem.  

"This is the worst that I've ever seen it," Keating said. "In talking to colleagues locally, this is a time where superintendent to superintendent, you're getting text messages or emails: 'hey, I still have an opening in this, does anyone know anyone?' And that's a little unheard of."

Creativity is the name of the game this school year, including in the Hanover Area School District.

"Even parents that want to apply for these positions to go to school with their child and then leave with them. You know, they get paid well while they're there with their children," said Hanover Area Superintendent Nathan Barrett.

"There's areas where administration goes into classrooms," Keating said. "And we use everybody that we can. We have people in the building in other positions who hold four-year college degrees, and they have emergency certs. My business manager has an emergency cert, and if need be, he'll be in a classroom as a substitute teacher one day."

Both Hanover Area and the Riverside School District hired private recruiting companies to find subs for this school year. But it's a short-term solution for what they view as a long-term problem.

"Education needs a comeback. And if we don't address these problems now, kids are going to suffer," Brennan said.

"Local teacher preparation, universities and college programs are diminishing; they're very lightly attended. So even the pipeline doesn't look good," Barrett said.

It's why Tiffany Remington has considered homeschooling her son.

"I have talked to friends who have watched things in school and been like, 'OK, yeah, this makes me not want to have my kids in public school because of everything that's been going on."

Last year, the state passed legislation that made it easier for substitutes to get certified. This year, there's a bill under consideration that would make it easier for out-of-state educators to get certified in Pennsylvania. The superintendents I spoke to all agreed: Districts should not lower their standards out of desperation. 

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