NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Some schools are combining classrooms with double the number of students. Students are seeing more of their teachers, and coaches, driving buses. And, office staff workers and administrators are pulling double duty subbing in classes.

The teacher shortage is partially due to the pandemic, but it’s much more. And, it’s a much bigger problem- it’s a shortage of employees in education across the board.

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“It’s not just a Texas thing. It is a nationwide problem,” says Mary Randall who is the Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services in Mesquite ISD. “We have a shortage of care professional employees and teaching assistants, clerical people. There’s a shortage of cafeteria workers, custodians, you name it.”

Randall says MISD is addressing the problem in many ways. The district is working with long term subs trying to certify them as teachers quickly. It is offering bonuses to several potential hirees. It is developing a program to promote within. And, the district is constantly confirming its pay is comparable to other districts.

On the day the I-Team met with Randall, she was calling other counties just to make sure her salaries compared.

“We might go to a college or university and there might be eight or 10 candidates available and you’ve got 30 to 50 recruiters there… from different districts… vying for these candidates,” says Randall explaining the shortage of new teachers available.

Just 10-miles away, Dr. Kishawna Wiggins is the Recruiting Coordinator at Garland ISD.

“I don’t want to say it’s comforting but it is the comforting to know that everybody is feeling the same thing,” explains Wiggins. “We’re noticing teacher shortages, instructional aides, bus drivers, even mechanics.”

Dr. Wiggins says, with a shortage in substitutes, her central office staff and campus administrators are working one day a week in the classroom. “Until we can get someone there part or full time, we step in where we have to.”

The I-Team began digging into this issue after receiving emails from viewers stating their districts are struggling. We surveyed several North Texas school districts– Dallas, Mesquite, Garland, Keller, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Fort Worth, Hurst Euless Bedford, Frisco, Denton, Plano, and Grand Prairie.

Dallas ISD told the I-Team it’s teachers are staffed at “99%.”

All of the others told us they were having “issues” as Fort Worth ISD stated it.

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HEB ISD stated it had “more vacancies than we’re accustomed to.”

The I-Team asked for these numbers last month. At the time, Keller ISD said it had 30 teacher openings. Denton had 10. And, Frisco reported 40. Frisco also stated it had 35 bus driver openings and 30 crossing guard vacancies.

The I-Team also found a Texas Education Agency report finding the number of new teaching certificates issued in the school year 2018-19 was 21,869. And the following year, it dropped to 17,734 according to the report. This means thousands of fewer college students chose to get certified as teachers.

Doctor Stephen Waddell is a professor at the University of North Texas where he teaches students to be teachers. He told us he was happy to report the number of graduates in the College of Education is only down slightly at UNT; however, he said statewide the education job shortage is growing significantly.

“I’ve heard that recently 30 superintendents, they’re retiring, which is a larger number than it’s ever been,” explained Dr. Waddell. He cited several causes for the decline. He says the perception of the profession is an issue. He says it used to be a more highly respected profession. He stated that the pay is an ongoing debate.

Waddell also talked about the pressure for teachers to teach to standardized tests. He said there are social issues creating cultural wars in classrooms. And, of course, he says the most obvious and most recent culprit is covid. The pandemic is then in turn causing retirement, particularly of older substitutes who do not find the risk worth the rewards.

Waddell says this may not be a crisis but corrections are needed. “I think that’s too big of a word…I think we’d be wrong to think it’s just going to blow over.”

Forever an educator Waddell sees potential solutions in teaching new strategies and in new teaching strategies. He talked about the possibility of more hybrid schedules- perhaps students go to school four days a week rather than five.

Waddell suggested blending traditional and virtual learning. While the pandemic was destructive to education in many ways, he says there were lessons learned. He sees value in some online learning. He also says districts may consider allowing those with associate degrees to teach with the oversight of master teachers inside classrooms.

“I think great societies always seem to take advantage of difficult times. …If we do this right, we could be better positioned for the last half of the 21st century.”

Waddell even sees another possible solution in robots assisting teachers as so much has forever changed the future of education.

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If you are interested in a career in education, several districts have more details online about job fairs, human resources and recruitment.

Garland ISD
Southlake ISD