As school year begins, at least 6,000 new teachers have joined Maryland's ranks

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Max Rosado taught for eight years in Puerto Rico, but this year he will be starting over as an elementary Spanish teacher at Woodholme Elementary School in Baltimore County, lured away from his home by promises of greater opportunities.

He acknowledges being a bit anxious for the first day of school, which begins this morning.

“But I am really, really ready for a challenge,” he said. “I feel humbled to be at this school.”

As schools open Tuesday, thousands of new teachers — at least 6,000 — will join the state’s teaching ranks, recruited from as far away as Puerto Rico and Texas to fill positions created by a growing teacher shortage.

Rosado was one of 900 teachers hired new this year in Baltimore County alone, which is about 10 percent of its teaching staff. While about 150 of the new teachers were added because of rising enrollments, the remaining hires were the result of turnover.

With a healthy economy and many teachers leaving the profession before retirement, Baltimore County’s human resources officials went to recruit in states such as Kentucky and North Carolina to keep up with the churn of its teaching staff.

The need to fill hundreds of teaching jobs each year isn’t unique to Baltimore County; other districts are feeling the same pressure to recruit from other states to fill their vacancies. A recent state report labeled all 24 school systems as having a shortage.

Maryland’s colleges and universities produce about 2,700 graduates ready to take teaching jobs each year, but the state has an average of 6,000 vacancies each year, according to state data from 2014-2015, the last year the data was collected. The number of students interested in going into teaching has also declined.

“I do think that we obviously are facing a greater teacher shortage than we have in the past,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. Districts have large classes of new teachers coming in and “the pool of candidates is slimmer.”

Even in Howard County, where teacher pay is better, there were 345 positions to fill for this fall. It will start the year off with a permanent teacher in front of every classroom.

Anne Arundel County hired more than 600 teachers for the school year, about 90 more than last year.

Vacancies existed in Baltimore City and Baltimore County last week. The county even held a job fair seeking special education teachers last week and expected to hire teachers on the spot. But both districts said they didn’t expect any classes not to be staffed on the first day.

The bigger question that worries some administrators is how long these new teachers will stay.

“It is our churn. It is our turnover,” said Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises, of the reason for the shortage. The city wouldn’t have to hire 500 to 600 teachers each year if it could hold on to its workforce longer.

Statewide, about 28,000 of the state’s 59,000 teachers have less than a decade in the job.

The need for minority teachers is even more pressing. In the city, where African-American children made up roughly 80 percent of the student body last year, only about 40 percent of its teachers were black, down from 60 percent. Across the region, no school system has a teaching staff that perfectly reflects the race of its students.

Bost believes teacher pay is not high enough compared with other professions. “It is not making it as attractive as it could be,” she said.

That could change if the recommendations of a state commission charged with analyzing the needs of public schools and coming up with changes to the funding formula are adopted by the legislature next winter.

The first suggestions from the Kirwan Commission — named for the commission’s head, William “Brit” Kirwan — would give the state’s teachers a 10 percent increase in pay over the course of several years as a way to compete with states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have schools that are higher ranked than Maryland.

The pay increases would be part of a package of proposals designed to increase the status of the teaching profession.

“We are of the belief that if the profession is elevated, we will attract more people into the profession,” said state Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat and a member of the commission.

Nations — such as Finland — that are considered to have the best educational systems make it more difficult to become a teacher, with higher standards for entrance to college preparation programs, and greater expectations. Those teachers are also paid more and given more time to plan lessons and learn, he said.

The commission is recommending, among other actions, that the state require every college student headed to a classroom to do a full school year’s internship.

Currently, teachers must pass a reading and math exam called Praxis to be certified. The commission is considering a different exam that would be based on performance in the classroom.

“You have to present lessons and see how the students respond — much more real world than multiple-choice tests,” Pinsky said.

Baltimore County’s head of human resources, Maria Lowry, said her team has traveled to a few more places this year to find teachers. They go to a number of Southern states, and stop at colleges and universities to pitch students who are graduating on the benefits of joining the county schools, including talking to them about tuition reimbursement and leadership opportunities down the road. She even takes principals to some of the stops, so that they can interview candidates and give students advance contracts on the spot.

Woodholme Elementary was able to hire two teachers with years of experience, including Rosado. Debbie Wolff, a Dallas teacher with a decade of experience, was proactive, picking her own schools.

A graduate of Pikesville High School, she had decided to return home to the county after years in Texas and began emailing principals at schools where she wanted to teach. Woodholme’s principal, Teresa Young, interviewed her and offered her a job to teach English language arts almost immediately.

Wolff said her pay increase is slight, but the benefits package is better. After paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for medical expenses when she was a teacher in Texas, she is looking forward to being able to afford to go to the doctor.

She said the leadership team and teachers were immediately welcoming, which made her choice easy.

“There is heart in this school,” she said. “I am in it 150 percent for the kids. I love my kids for who they are.”

Wolff intends to stay in the profession, but said that teachers in general need to be better paid and better supported by their school districts in order to stay in teaching.

While she meticulously arranged her classroom on Friday, she said she hadn’t been able to afford to ship all her teaching supplies from Texas to Maryland, and so now she is starting over, spending her own money on supplies.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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