Colorado is just a few weeks away from the start of a new school year, but some districts are still struggling to recruit teachers.
News 5 learned that this statewide shortage won’t be going away anytime soon. With more teachers retiring, salary issues, and a reduction in the number of people working towards a teaching degree it could mean trouble for current educators and students.
Jeff Piquette said, "I think it’s a real challenge. I think we have been building up to this shortage for a number of reasons for several years."
As associate dean for teacher education at CSU Pueblo, Jeff Piquette is no stranger to the teacher shortages in Colorado.
"It hits everybody. I think everybody’s feeling it."
Colleague Jeremiah Blaha covers the human resources side of the shortage.
"Colorado needs more teachers than they currently develop. We need more than 3,000 teachers in Colorado every year. We develop less than 3,000 teachers every year."
A lot of current educators are retiring and the teaching field has changed dramatically in the last few years. Many districts can’t give pay raises due to budget issues. That, plus other issues, may make the career undesirable to up and comers.
Dion Killingsworth, human resources director of elementary education for District 11, said, "We’ve had a consistent reduction in the number of graduates since 2010 per Colorado Department of Education, so we’ve had a drop in graduates within the teaching field."
Rick Lovato, superintendent of La Junta Public School District said, "The new generation of teachers are much more mobile…it wasn’t uncommon for a teacher to teach in one place for 20 to 25 years. Now, kids that come into the profession are five to eight years."
It’s a struggle for smaller districts like La Junta.
Piquette said, "We have these young people coming out of college going to a rural place. There’s not always a whole lot to do, not a whole lot of people, so in some ways that’s a tough sell."
As of mid-July, six positions were open in La Junta between the elementary and high schools. In District 11 there were 26 vacancies. For D60 in Pueblo there were about 44. This high demand for more help can be a burden for current classrooms.
Piquette said, "They’re going to have to potentially pick up slack that might be there…their class sizes might balloon."
It means less attention for students and the potential to get a less qualified teacher.
Piquette said, "That sets them up for a real challenge going on to higher education."
To protect future generations of students and teachers there’s a collective effort to fight the shortages.
Killingsworth said, "We’re working very closely with the universities and partnerships working to bring new student teachers in all the time."
Piquette said, "Students who are about a year, within a year of completing their program, can go into a single school and really sort of get oriented during that first semester, do some field experience and then transition into their full on student teaching term the second part of the year."
Out of state recruitment is happening and alternative licensure programs are also available. People who already have a bachelor’s degree in another area can do a two-year program to become a teacher. The effort to pay teachers better is also a priority.
Lovato said, "We gave a pretty good raise this year…it was able to compensate salaries a little bit better for next year. We also have gone to a four-day week."
Bringing more incentives to the table isn’t the only thing districts are trying to do. In the fight to get more teachers they want to boost morale.
Killingsworth said, "I think it’s important to know that there’s more to teaching than a career. It’s actually the opportunity to make an impact on students and families."
It’s a message he hopes current and future educators take to heart.
The other side of the shortage issue are the costs associated with recruiting new teachers. Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum says taxpayers can spend anywhere from $5,000 per teacher, per year all the way up to $15,000. Bailey says spending that money is an opportunity loss, dollars that could’ve been spent keeping teachers in the state.