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It's elementary: Teacher shortage growing because college students aren't studying education

It's elementary: Teacher shortage growing because college students aren't studying education

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Auburn elementary teacher of the year reaches beyond the classroom (copy)

In this file photo, Wrights Mill Road Elementary School Teacher Amber Goolsby, who was named the Auburn City Schools’ systemwide Elementary Teacher of the Year, works with her students.

Area school systems are dealing with a shortage of new teacher candidates to fill positions, and some local educational leaders believe it has to do with fewer college students wanting to become teachers after graduation.

At an Opelika City Schools Board of Education meeting on Jan. 26, Assistant Superintendent Jean Miller explained the district's recruiting efforts as well as the problem it faces.

“We’re low in everything right now,” Miller said. “People are just not going into education. … We struggle with finding candidates, period. We’ve watched the decline over the years, and it’s just getting greater.”

Officials with Auburn City Schools have noticed the trend in their system as well, and ACS Superintendent Cristen Herring said they were working to fill positions.

"Auburn City Schools continues to monitor national and state trends that indicate a teacher shortage,” ACS Superintendent Cristen Herring said. "We proactively work to identify and fill positions that are traditionally hard to fill, such as math, science and special education.”

Despite positive exit interviews from applicants, OCS Superintendent Mark Neighbors said his school system still has difficulty finding new teacher candidates despite offering excellent benefits, and he hopes ramping up recruiting to local universities like Auburn will help fill more roles.

“All the things we’re doing that we can control, they’re satisfied with,” Neighbors said of candidates.

While Lee County Schools Superintendent James McCoy said the coronavirus has affected the number of substitute teachers available this past year, his schools have been struggling with a teacher shortage since he started his job, and they’ve had to adjust their operations.

“I started in 2013, and [there] was a teacher shortage then,” McCoy said. “We have had to change schedules, course offerings and hire individuals without professional educator certificates to meet the needs of the students in Lee County.”

McCoy said he believes several steps could help encourage college students to go down the education career path, including tuition incentives to make education careers more appealing, student loan forgiveness to encourage them to stay in education-related fields longer, and certificate options for second-career educators.

Until those solutions are presented, McCoy said he and his staff will continue working with their second-career teachers and helping their school administrators create a culture that increases teacher retention rates.

Some education officials feel the problem will only worsen over time without a clear solution to the shortage.

“We can’t just continue to watch the numbers go down,” OCS Board Member Chuck Beams said. “And the things we do today aren’t going to fix it tomorrow; they’re going to fix it five years down the road.”

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