New teacher recruiting getting tougher due to candidate shortages and pandemic, schools say

Attracting new teachers to local school systems – at least for some of area districts – has been a tough sell as schools continue to mirror America’s private industries’ struggles with finding new employees. Among local districts ramping up recruiting is Fairfield Schools. In April a team of Fairfield officials worked the Southwest Ohio Education Career Fair held at Xavier University.  Pictured from left to right are: Jennifer Moore, 1st grade teacher at West E;lementary (the 2021 Fairfield Teacher of the Year);  Denise Hayes, principal at North Elementary; Ricardo Calles, technology integration specialist; and Katie Myers, director of Human Resources. (Contributed Photo\Journal-News)

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Attracting new teachers to local school systems – at least for some of area districts – has been a tough sell as schools continue to mirror America’s private industries’ struggles with finding new employees. Among local districts ramping up recruiting is Fairfield Schools. In April a team of Fairfield officials worked the Southwest Ohio Education Career Fair held at Xavier University. Pictured from left to right are: Jennifer Moore, 1st grade teacher at West E;lementary (the 2021 Fairfield Teacher of the Year); Denise Hayes, principal at North Elementary; Ricardo Calles, technology integration specialist; and Katie Myers, director of Human Resources. (Contributed Photo\Journal-News)

A replenishing of new teachers has never been more important as student achievement continues to lag in the third year of the now-fading pandemic, according to area school officials.

But luring new teachers to local school systems — at least for some of area districts — has been a tough sell as schools continue to mirror America’s private industries’ struggles with finding new employees.

Virtual learning in the last two years meant some students fell significantly behind, according to state data. It’s unlikely this year was enough to catch all students back up. Besides that challenge, many students and teachers missed a lot of school this year because of various illnesses, including COVID-19.

The number of people applying to replace retiring teachers has also declined, administrators for some local districts said.

“You’ve got fewer people coming into the profession,” said Scott DiMauro, the president of the Ohio Education Association, Ohio’s largest teacher union. “And then you’ve got people who are already teaching feeling kind of besieged and thinking about other options, and that creates a real, real problem for our schools, for our students and for our state.”

It’s old but still frustrating news to Talawanda Schools Superintendent Ed Theroux and he said public, tax-payer funded schools competing with more wealthy private companies for young workers is a no-win situation for schools.

“There simply are not enough individuals interested in education. Salaries and bonus sign-ons put us at a disadvantage. We can’t match those (hiring) incentives,” said Theroux.

“We are seeing a nationwide issue of teacher shortages. The pandemic did affect us in the sense we could not meet with individuals face-to-face,” he said.

According to data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, education degrees accounted for 9.6% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in Ohio public universities in 2009, but by 2018, that percentage had declined to 6.3%.

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In that span, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded across all fields rose from 38,493 to 49,963. But the number of education degrees went in the opposite direction — from about 3,700 a year through 2014, into a year after year decline that hit 3,180 in 2018.

Less than 15% of teachers in Ohio were under the age of 30 between 2011 and 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and nearly 19% of Ohio teachers were over the age of 55. The 2011-2012 school year was the most recent year this survey was taken.

As the pandemic forced schools online, and some schools stayed there for long stretches, many students fell behind academically, particularly the students who have the highest learning needs. The overall performance index on state tests dropped from 84 in 2019 to 72 in 2021.

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Brian Cayot, a Centerville high school math teacher and the president of the Centerville teachers union, said he would have a few kids in his classes out for quarantine or illness, then get those kids back only to have other kids leave.

Many teachers typically have one period during the school day to plan lessons, grade papers or do other work. Cayot said teachers at the high school were often covering other classes during their plan period because their coworkers were out sick. That meant doing more work outside of school, which was exhausting.

It was a constant cycle of planning lessons, replanning lessons, giving individual help and catching kids up, Cayot said. It’s not over, either. He estimates it will take at least five years for kids to get caught up from the pandemic.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Cayot said. “It’s not going to happen in one year.”

Centerville and West Carrollton schools, both south of Greater Dayton, are two of the districts who have teachers working with Wright State and University of Dayton teaching students to mentor them through college. The effort has been in place for about two years.

Theroux says his Butler County district has a similar program with Miami University.

“We are working with Miami University graduate students to partner with us and substitute. It provides them with experience, money, and a flexible schedule and they can choose the days they wish to work or not work,” he said.

Fairfield Schools have aggressively been recruiting teachers for years – including increased emphasis on racial diversity. But the last two years have been particularly tougher due safety and travel limitations in place periodically during COVID-19.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, 94% of teachers in Ohio were white in the 2020-2021 school year.

“We are aware that in general, the number of high-quality teaching candidates, regardless of race, has dwindled. Add to this the low numbers of college students of color pursuing education careers and we have double the challenge,” said Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student Fairfield school system.

“We started tracking our diverse hiring in 2011. At that time, 3.23% of our professional staff was diverse. This school year we have more than doubled our numbers from 20 to 43 or 6.42%,” said Gentry-Fletcher.

“We have been criticized for not having enough staff members of color. We know that we have much work to do. However, the barrier to increasing our numbers lies within the number of candidates, or lack thereof, out there.”

“We are intentional in our search. We have partnerships with universities, churches, (college) sororities and fraternities. We reach out to current staff members to share job postings with people they know. We have a diverse hiring committee and use other community resources.

Some districts, however, such as Kings Schools in southern Warren County, have so a far been largely spared from teacher shortages.

Kings has long taken a “home grown” approach by recruiting former graduates of the school district who are earning education degrees.

“Nearly 20% of our staff are Kings graduates,” said Dawn Gould, spokeswoman for the 4,600-student district.

Plus, Kings is one of the higher-rated districts academically in the area, said Gould.

“I think because we are a destination school district and consistently rate high in the state is why we are a sought-after district,” she said.

Theroux said it’s a competitive market and at times more so for smaller districts away from major metropolitan areas such as Cincinnati, Dayton or other large cities in the region.

He said newly graduated education majors “are being recruited by at least five other surrounding states with metropolitan areas that offer higher wages and some neat amenities in their cities.”

“This can be very attractive to young people. It’s hard to compete.”