School districts in Oklahoma have been hit hard in recent years with retirement notices submitted from teachers in late spring. Others districts report a growing trend of teachers turning in their resignation at May and June school board meetings.
Many of those resigning teachers are exiting the classroom, headed to industries that offer better pay and leaving behind the state’s educational landscape which has been a roller-coaster in recent years as the state legislature calls for changes in educational standards and implements a new teacher evaluation system.
Hiring for teaching positions in the summer months is nothing new for superintendents, but dealing with fewer applicants applying for available teaching positions is a troubling trend that will likely continue, area superintendents say.
“I am really concerned about the future and filling vacancies,” says Larry Case, superintendent at Dickson Public Schools. “The general state of education concerns me — the negativity through the state in not knowing what is going to come down the pike. It seems like more and more is getting piled on teachers, like the evaluation tied into test scores. In general, the negative condensations that we are facing, it all concerns me.”
“As far as filling positions, in the recent years it has been very difficult to fill education positions,” admits Karl Stricker, superintendent at Plainview Public Schools. “There is just not that many teachers out there, and it has been challenging.”
“This is not just a this-year thing,” says Todd Garrison, superintendent at Lone Grove Public Schools. “Last year at (an education) conference, it was the overwhelming discussion. Everyone was talking about it. It is a statewide issue.”
Oklahoma has made national headlines in recent years with measures taken in education reform. This coming school year was to mark the first academic year the state’s Common Core State Standards were to take effect. The standards, a set of clear, rigorous, multi-state educational standards in English and math, were adopted by the legislature in 2010. Many school districts began to send teachers to professional development training to learn the new standards as well as purchase classroom materials that fit the standards. Last month, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill repealing the national standards for Oklahoma schools. School districts were instructed to revert back to Priority Academic Student Skills and wait for new standards to be developed by the state by August 2016.
Oklahoma educators have also seen the legislature implement the Teacher and Leader Effective Evaluation system, a set of specific guidelines for evaluating teachers that includes test scores impacting the evaluation, and the A-F report card system for grading the state’s public schools.
Despite the changes state lawmakers have made in recent years to education, they’ve made little movement on the call to increase teacher pay. Oklahoma teachers’ pay ranks 49th in the nation, according to a recent national report.
Earlier this year, a bill calling for raising teacher base pay by $2,000 was introduced. That bill failed to gain traction in the legislature, despite being backed by State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who said it would help combat the teacher shortage.
Area superintendents cite the recent changes in education, along with pay, as big factors to the teacher shortage across the state. Additionally, all three superintendents say they’ve noticed less college students studying education and pursuing certification.
“There is a perfect storm of the situation that has occurred,” Stricker says. “We are not having as many young people going into the profession, and a large group of professionals who are reaching the point of retirement. We have more leaving and less coming in, that’s part of it.”
Garrison said school districts in southern Oklahoma have traditionally looked to the regional universities, such as Southeastern Oklahoma State University and East Central University, for recent education graduates. Education programs are graduating less students, but the number of districts hiring has increased.
“It used to be if you posted a middle school teaching job with a coaching position attached to it or an elementary school job, you would get 40 applicants for the job,” Garrison says. “Now, we are getting four, maybe five. And some of those haven’t even passed their certification test yet. It has become a game of making sure you are staffed and dealing with it early because the later it gets the harder it gets to fill those spots.”
Case said another aspect to the teaching shortage comes following the evolving teaching profession. The field used to be viewed by many as a highly regarded career path. But now, some teachers believe there has been a loss of respect.
“I’ve been in this business 32 years, and I still love the kids and the people. But it gets more difficult every year to try to staff and keep the morale high,” Case says.
Garrison and Stricker say they see teachers leaving the industry for better paychecks.
“Of course pay is something that is always critical,” Stricker acknowledges. “I can tell you from experience that teachers have left to go work in the energy field because it is booming right now, and they are just going to make more.”
All three school districts experienced a number of teacher retirements and resignations this spring, followed by weeks of work to fill those positions. All three superintendents say their districts are in good shape come mid-August when students return for the start of the 2014-15 school year. They’ve met those vacancies with quality applicants to join their staffs.
Superintendents say the teacher shortage is likely to continue unless change is made. Efforts in the legislature to increase teacher pay in Oklahoma would help, Case says.
“It would go a long way in encouraging people to go into the profession,” Case says. “I don’t think it will solve it. I think it would show we (as a state) are going to work on it. I think that would be a great start to bringing the profession up to where it should be.”
Teachers being in short supply is not just an Oklahoma issue, contends Stricker, who came to Plainview after years of working in Kansas.
Forbes recently ranked teaching as the No. 10 most difficult job to fill in the United States.
“There is a going to be a period of time, and I am not just speaking here because I’ve seen it in Kansas, it is going to be tough to get teachers,” Stricker said. “We are just not having enough young people going into it. We need to turn that around.”
Turning around the industry is going to be tough with all the factors attributing to the shortage, Garrison warns.
“Unless leadership makes a change, it is going to continue to snowball,” Garrison says. “If you want to change a job market, you are going to have to make it more attractive to people to get in to. People have known for years that teaching is not a lucrative field. It will pay the bills. When you couple that with negative, constant embarkment in the media — I mean from the standpoint of nationally, like common core reform, cutting budget, poor quality of public education with the need for charter schools — it is really hard to get people interested.
“It use to be that it was highly regarded to be a teacher. People held them in high regard and had great respect for them. That’s what offset the pay,” Garrison says. “Now, when you don’t have the pay, it makes things really tough. Until that gets turned around, I think it will continue.”