02 November 2022 | Education

Kansas’ Teacher Shortage Has Worsened, Hurting Kids’ Learning Opportunities

Daniel Klaassen | November 2, 2022

As the pandemic began and schools across the state switched to remote learning, teachers were hailed as heroes. Parents, grandparents, and child care providers all stepped up to help students adapt and succeed in this new learning environment, and quickly, teachers’ skillsets and talents became appreciated and apparent. Families recognized firsthand the effort educators put forth every day to give their students the best learning opportunities possible. Two and a half years later, the narrative has shifted from praising teachers’ tireless contributions helping raise the next generation to criticism by some policymakers and disgruntled special interest groups attacking their lesson plans, library selections, and professional judgment. 

As a result, teachers have been worn down as they’ve had to navigate emerging culture wars, and students are worse off for it.

As teachers feel the impact of this stress, shortages are being reported around the country, including 1,400 open teaching positions in Kansas this past July, which has risen to 1,628 by October. This accounts for 3.5 percent of all teaching positions in the state.

This number should be a concern to Kansas leaders, especially those in rural areas, which see a greater impact from the shortage. More than one-third of the vacancies occur in the Kansas State Board of Education’s 5th district, an area of 45 counties in western Kansas that contains only 10 percent of the population.

Other states’ solutions to this issue vary and, unfortunately, lack the professionalism that kids deserve. Arizona is allowing college students to take teaching jobs. Florida offers the opportunity for military veterans to fill open positions in the classroom. Unnoticed in the news are the districts that move specialists from their fields into the classroom, or central office administrators into the schools they oversee, filling the shoes of these missing teachers.

One thing that all these solutions have in common: children have larger class sizes or less qualified teachers, diminishing critical one-on-one interactions with children who need personalized instruction.

“If students are taught by a string of under qualified and underperforming teachers, it limits academic potential. However, highly qualified teachers are more likely to expand students' desires to learn and succeed."

(Cailin, 2018)

Students benefit from highly qualified instructors trained in their field of expertise to facilitate their education, while the opposite is true for teachers on waivers or emergency licenses who are doing their best to teach topics they weren’t trained in.

While putting a licensed teacher in a setting in which they are not licensed is better than an unlicensed teacher, it does not replace a highly qualified educator that can give their students the best learning opportunities.

Policy Solutions

While sign-on and retention bonuses have encouraged educators to stay in the classroom, they are a temporary solution that does not get to the root of this problem. Three steps could help reverse the trend of teachers flocking to other jobs in Kansas:

  • Support teachers in taking the time to build healthy teacher-parent relationships. Time must be spent on the non-academic aspects of education, taking the time for students and teachers to appreciate the perspectives everyone brings to the classroom. As educators begin the year, there is pressure for academic learning to immediately take precedence, but without the time to build a trusting relationship between teachers, students, and parents, the academics will flounder. Parental involvement must increase not because it is legislated, but because it is what is best for the students. When parents and teachers communicate and are on the same team, student conduct will improve, leading to better working environments for teachers and better learning environments for kids.

  • Invest in education leaders, principals, and superintendents. Principals who create positive working conditions can reduce staff turnover. This is in direct contrast with data showing that 61 percent of principals report being harassed over school policy, specifically over COVID-19 safety measures. Society cannot expect school leaders to keep students safe while berating them over disagreements. Instead, state and local policymakers can lead by example and seek to encourage and support school administrators by asking them about their needs and challenges.

  • Trust teachers to do their jobs. About 54 percent of teachers and principals believe that legal limits over issues of disagreement impede learning. Bills like the so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” do not increase parental participation or rights. These kinds of bills undermine the ability of dedicated Kansas teachers the freedom to educate our students through proven methods that will help kids reach their fullest potential. By building respectful relationships through trusting communication, teachers and parents will better serve the needs of their children.

Highly qualified teachers are experts in their fields and, when supported, can build connections with parents and students. Capable, trusted teachers cannot be easily replaced; all Kansans must work to build collaborative relationships so students can thrive in K-12 and beyond.

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