Nationwide teacher shortages leave school districts relying on alternative solutions

MESA, Ariz. – Districts nationwide are shortening school weeks and packing more students into classrooms because there aren’t enough teachers. Arizona is just one state where almost a quarter of their teaching jobs are consistently vacant.

School districts are fighting to fill some of those jobs in Arizona and half of the time they are filled by people who aren’t properly certified.  

Representatives for school districts in the Phoenix-area say they’ve been feeling this shortage for almost a decade, and there’s no end in sight. 

“Do I want to pay off my student loans? Yes. Would I like to take a vacation? Yes. Do I not want to work every summer without fail or every winter break to pay my bills? Am I living paycheck to paycheck? Yeah,” said Littleton School District new teacher mentor Cassandra Lockard. 

Cassandra Lockard taught for 16 years, but she says on a teacher’s low salary, she’ll probably never be able to pay off her debt. 

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Lockard is certified to teach history, but last year, she had to step up and teach science to 55 students. 

“It was intense. Did they pass the state science test? No, no they didn’t, because how am I going to get 55 kids on my own to pass the state’s science test? I am not currently certified, you know, in being a science teacher,” said Lockard. 

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Some states where more than half their school districts have a tough time filling school vacancies include Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Michigan.  

At the start of the last school year, Arizona needed about 7,500 teachers still. The state relies on uncertified teachers to fill the void.

“When you have a teacher shortage, you have teachers that are not as qualified. And then you see, in many cases, a correlating decline in data, which is a concern for everybody. Oh, the kids aren’t doing so well. Well, if you’re not going to pay us, and you can’t find anybody to put in the classroom, data is going to drop. That’s a given,” said Lockard. 

As one solution to lessening the shortage, some school districts have created an alternative route to become teachers.

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“Out of those 7,500, about 4,000 of them were filled by alternative means. Alternative means they were on an alternative pathway, a change of career. So they may be in the business setting, or they got a college degree in another field,” said Mesa Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of HR Justin Wing. 

Wing says this pathway removes financial and time barriers for individuals who want to become teachers.

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“We’re in our second year of hosting our own certification program. So if you have a degree in another field, you can be a teacher tomorrow. And we’re going to heavily invest in you and support you to be the best teacher possible. And after you complete our two-year program, now you have all the teacher credentials,” said Wing. “The Arizona Department of Education will be giving them a full teacher certificate, a 12-year teacher certificate.”

School districts around the country are also hiring internationally to help with the teacher shortage.