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TSPR Commentaries

Commentary: ROE26 Faces Historic Crisis in Teacher Shortage; Quality of Education Jeopardized

John Meixner
Rich Egger
/
Tri States Public Radio
John Meixner is the Regional Superintendent of Schools for Fulton, Hancock, McDonough, and Schuyler counties.

We, at Regional Offices of Education #26, are calling for community collaborators in determining how to address a continuing, growing problem throughout the region and Illinois as a whole: The shortage of qualified educators to teach children in our school districts.

This problem is critical and has only become worse since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m a member of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS), where we conduct an annual survey throughout the state in every county. I was honored to lead the committee that conducted this survey. It asked detailed questions of local school administrators and the findings from our school districts in ROE26 are what we’ve known and feared for some time.

The survey reports the following results from local ROE26 school districts that responded to the IARSS survey this past fall:

  • 100 percent say we have a teacher shortage problem
  • 100 percent say we have a substitute teacher shortage problem
  • 69 percent say COVID-19 increased teacher turnover
  • 81 percent say the teacher shortage problem is getting worse
  • 100 percent say they are concerned about future teacher shortages
  • 11 classes were canceled and 10 converted online because of shortages
  • 94 percent say the substitute teacher shortage is getting worse
  • 100 percent are concerned about future substitute shortages

The IARSS’ 2021 Illinois Educator Shortage Survey reflects months of collaboration among partners Goshen Education Consulting and Illinois State University. This is the fifth year of consecutive surveys that ask detailed questions about the depth and reach of Illinois’ ongoing teacher shortage and compiled responses from more than 660 school districts statewide.
Results from the past two years of surveys indicate that a number of educators retired early attributable to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This decrease escalated the educator shortage in the state, creating a void in the number of qualified teachers entering the educator job market both years.

Without qualified and properly educated teachers, the quality of education we provide in ROE26 is in peril.

You may ask, what’s the cause of this? This issue is decades in the making, and like some of the State's most difficult problems, it’s multi-faceted and will take a lot of work, a lot of time, and many different solutions to make a difference.

Here are only a few opinions of mine on causation:

Public perception Education was once a profession appreciated and observed as a calling. This reverence has waned through the pandemic with the emergence of cultural and political pressures.

Political demotivators. This profession has become a political punching bag. Schools are often the industry to “blame” and the ones “to fix” societies cultural, health and political issues. For example, approximately 600 education-related bills passed last year in Illinois. Whatever ails us, education is usually the industry looked upon to solve it without proper investments.

Higher education pricing. In comparison to other bachelor degreed positions, educators are paid on the low end. Teaching is not a high-paid profession for those coming out of college. Also, requirements to become an educator have increased through the years. The return on investment is in question.

Economics. The general lack of investment or disinvestment in this profession over the past few decades has led to an overall negative narrative. This affects current working conditions, retention efforts and potential recruitment initiatives.

The supply of educators is largely based on older educators encouraging youth to pursue the field. With less job satisfaction due to all the issues just stated and more, you’re not finding educators inspiring younger generations to enter this field.

You may now ask, what are some Solutions?

Well, advocate. I and other education administrators in our area will be reaching out to our local elected representatives, civic and community leaders, state education officers and college and universities to see how we can collaborate and find answers to these problems so that current and future educators can feel secure and succeed in their profession. We want to ensure our students receive the education they rightly deserve from public schools.

ROE26 has been supporting the School of Education at Western Illinois University with their programs to combat this shortage crisis. The development of their Master of Arts in Teaching program has been wildly successful. They are also starting an Undergraduate Teacher Licensure Program for Working  Paraprofessionals the Summer of 2022. WIU has been incredibly responsive to this crisis and we applaud them for their diligence to better our profession.

This educator shortage is real. Whether this is impacting you or your school district now does not matter, it will impact us ALL in time. Support this profession for the value it possesses in our society.

While there's a temptation to make this an "education" or "teacher" problem only, that just ensures we miss the point -- it's all of our problem, because of the ramifications involved. Not everyone will become a teacher, but everyone has a stake in making sure there are good teachers everywhere.

Teaching is the profession that begins ALL professions.

For more information concerning the 2021 IARSS Illinois Educator Shortage Survey, go to IARSS.org

John Meixner is the Regional Superintendent of Schools for Fulton, Hancock, McDonough, and Schuyler counties.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomes and encouraged.