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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

More teachers needed: New school rules, requirements create vacuum of positions to fill

Student teacher Breanna Riley leads Logan Elementary School teacher Marci McQuary’s kindergarten class in the ABCs on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

A teacher shortage is looming across Washington.

The addition of full-day kindergarten along with smaller class sizes through the third grade will require more teachers next school year.

Factors driving up the need for more teachers in other grades include new graduation requirements that add more science, world languages and social studies courses starting this fall in high school; and Common Core, the national curriculum implemented this year.

A strengthening economy and retirements are creating slots, too.

“It is absolutely crazy this year. The number of vacancies and the number of districts that are already hiring, we have record numbers of districts contacting us,” said Cathy Stephens, Whitworth University’s director of educational certification and career services. “I had to change my practices so students were ready for interviews sooner.”

If the Legislature funds a voter-approved initiative to shrink K-12 class sizes further, the state could need thousands more teachers.

So far lawmakers are considering whether they should now ask voters how to the fund the initiative – estimated to cost about $2 billion a year.

Spokane Public Schools also needs at least 55 more teachers as the district stretches the school day by 30 minutes in September. Many of them must be specialized in science, a hard-to-find group of teachers. The district is already planning to hire up to 300 teachers for the 2015-16 school year.

Logan Elementary School student teacher Breanna Riley knows there are openings. The principal and assistant principal have already approached her about applying after she graduates from Eastern Washington University. “They’ve encouraged me. They said I would be a strong candidate,” Riley said.

While teaching jobs are easier to land – even in Spokane where new teachers were hard-pressed to find work just four years ago – increased job demands and modest pay are discouraging potential candidates.

“Teaching is really a profession, but it’s not necessarily regarded as a professional job,” Stephens said. “They certainly are not compensated as professionals.”

Starting pay is around $32,000, so “people aren’t going to want to go into teaching,” said Jenny Rose, union president for the Spokane Education Association.

The average teacher pay in Washington is $52,384, according to the Washington Professional Education Standards Board.

“There’s definitely a shortage (of teachers),” Rose said. “There aren’t any subs either.”

A dwindling pool of substitutes is a sign of an impending teacher shortage, and that started happening throughout Washington a couple years ago.

Rose said she remembers when the pool was about 1,000 substitutes a decade ago. There are now less than half that.

Spokane Public Schools’ human resources department is looking at a number of options.

The district uses about 300 substitutes each day, and has a list of about 450 people to draw from, said Mary Templeton, the district’s director of certified personnel.

“We are trying to figure out a protocol to make sure our students have a quality opportunity in the classroom,” she said. “If we can’t find a sub,” the district tries to find a principal or assistant principal to take a class.

Administrators from the downtown office may start substitute teaching one or two days per month and officials are looking into emergency certifications.

Student teachers can obtain certifications to teach a class alone. And people with a bachelor’s degree and experience working with children also can be temporarily certified.

Without deep substitute pools, which usually serve as a surplus of teacher candidates, districts are taking new approaches to finding the best teachers. They are recruiting earlier and partnering with universities.

“We had an interest to get our positions out there and get them advertised,” Templeton said. “We are also branching out to areas, including an Arizona district that we heard had layoffs. We are using social media to attract people out of Oregon, Idaho and Montana.”

Since the teacher and substitute shortage is not just in Washington, there’s lots of competition.

Stephens said all signs point to a great hiring year for Whitworth students.

“There’s been a big shift in terms of how many of our students are being placed in Spokane,” she said. “Usually they need to cast a net wide and far, and that’s not really necessary.”

Finding teachers could become even harder as the number of students entering graduate programs drops or remains stagnant, particularly in the areas of math, science and special education.

A big reason there are not enough teachers being produced is because word got around that there weren’t any jobs out there, so people quit enrolling, said David Brenna, senior policy analyst for Washington’s Professional Education Standards Board. At the same time, a growing bubble of teachers who had been waiting to retire decided to leave as the economy has improved.

Whitworth has seen its enrollment go down. The University of Washington has about the same number of students entering the program. EWU saw a slight uptick last fall.