Unfilled teaching positions in Virginia at a ‘crisis’ level

Unfilled teaching positions in Virginia at a ‘crisis’ level
Thousands of demonstrators rallied for better teacher pay and more public school funding during a January rally at the Capitol. (Source: Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

The number of unfilled teaching positions in Virginia increased 40 percent from 2007 to 2017 and is a “crisis” specifically in high-poverty school divisions, according to a 2017 report from the Advisory Committee on Teacher Shortages.

It’s meant school leaders have had to bring teachers out of retirement to fill positions, some students have gone entire school years without a permanent teacher and some districts have created programs with universities to feed new educators into their ranks.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe formed the committee after he had to send personal letters to ask retired teachers in Richmond and Petersburg to come back and fill empty positions, he wrote in a 2017 letter establishing the group.

“In recent months, I have increasingly heard more serious concerns about the future of our teaching workforce,” McAuliffe wrote. “It has become clear that Virginia needs bold, new approaches and fresh ideas in order to solve this complex challenge.”

In 2016, the last full school year before the report was finished, 20 percent of Middlesex County’s teaching positions were unfilled — a total of 20 positions.

Petersburg followed with 47 unfilled positions, or 13 percent of its teacher jobs. Danville had the same number of unfilled positions, but it was 10 percent of the district’s total positions.

The report concluded that becoming a teacher can be costly and there are difficult working conditions, especially for those in districts with more students with disabilities and English-language learners. It also touched on “limited earnings potential” and said teachers don’t feel valued or respected.

Recommendations in the report included creating high school programs that encourage or start students in education training; making the licensing process easier and more straightforward and expanding residency programs that commit college graduates to certain school systems. Also, districts should do more targeted recruitment with “flexible financial support” from the state, the report said.