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Education

Severe Maryland teacher shortage highlights difficult working conditions at K-12 schools

As the beginning of the school year approaches, the Baltimore region is facing a high number of teacher vacancies.

A presentation at the Maryland State Department of Education board meeting July 26 described nearly 2,000 teacher vacancies statewide as of September 2021. Individual school systems such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County are still reporting high numbers of vacancies as the 2022-23 school year approaches.

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As the beginning of the school year approaches, the Baltimore region is facing a high number of teacher vacancies.

Adria Hoffman, a professor and education researcher at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said the relatively low pay and coronavirus pandemic-era working conditions contribute to the shortage.

“They’re citing working conditions and financial challenges,” Hoffman said. “And that to me speaks to … this big wondering if we keep talking about a teacher shortage, it’s as though people don’t want to be teachers.

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”But that’s not what I’m seeing and hearing from colleagues who’ve been in the profession. [Teaching colleagues] love teaching,” she said. “They just can’t continue to do it because of the working conditions and salaries.”

She said the inconsistency that comes with the constant shuffling of teachers to fill gaps creates issues for students.

Baltimore City and County are two of 11 districts statewide in which teacher vacancies increased during the 2021-22 school year.

Baltimore City Public Schools Chief of Staff Alison Perkins-Cohen estimates that there are approximately 600 to 700 teacher vacancies in the city currently, down from 1,300 in April.

She said the shortage is particularly frustrating since this is the first year with additional funding for more educators as a result of The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act, state legislation passed in 2021 that will increase education funding by $3.8 billion each year over the next decade.

The city’s schools have been working to fill the teacher gap by starting their hiring process earlier in the year to beat competition with the neighboring school systems. They’ve also offered conditional hires to those who have not completed the required certifications necessary to teach but intend to do so.

Andrene Castro, another VCU professor and education researcher who studies the teacher workforce, called the concept of emergency-certifying educators tricky. She said more vulnerable districts are often the ones with high numbers of emergency-certified teachers.

“There’s a lot of data that shows that students — low-income students, vulnerable students, students of color, when they are exposed to teachers who are not adequately prepared, when those teachers are often leaving the profession ... it then affects student performance,” Castro said.

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Castro said that although people might have been in careers in which they interacted with children, they lack the clinical training a degree program typically provides.

Diamonté Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the teacher shortage is due to the hiring process. She said the school system’s hiring department is too busy to keep up.

“A lot of people want to work for Baltimore City Public Schools, but because whatever systems are in place, and our district makes it so difficult to actually become a hire, we end up losing a lot of people that would be working here,” Brown said.

Sherry Christian, a city schools spokesperson, said in a statement that it has hired teacher ambassadors for the summer to help recruit and aid potential candidates through the hiring process.

Baltimore County has 430 teacher vacancies, according to Gboyinde Onijala, the school system’s communications director. If there are still vacancies on the first day of school, current teachers will have to assist, she said

“I think in any given year, you are recruiting, and if you’re unable to fill certain vacancies, you’re leveraging the staff that you have. You’re leveraging long-term substitutes to cover those positions,” Onijala said. “Schools kind of rearrange things that they’ve got going on to fill that critical need you may have.”

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According to an email from the school system, Baltimore County has met with area universities to recruit seniors finishing their internship requirements to be long-term paid substitutes.

Cindy Sexton, president of the union representing Baltimore County teachers, said the pandemic exacerbated the shortage. The increased workload leads to stress and burnout, she said.

“I think it’s just something we’ve seen coming, and now, the workload, the discipline concerns, you know, pay — all those things that teachers, educators struggle with — are still happening,” Sexton said.

Onijala said the school system is working to support teachers by providing them with more wellness breaks and additional early dismissal dates.

Lena Amick, a sixth-year social studies teacher in the county, said more support for current and new teachers is needed. She said she’s had to give up planning periods to help cover as a substitute teacher and worked 10 to 12 hour days last year as a teacher at Owings Mills High School.

She said she had to make up lost planning time at home. Amick’s starting at Parkville High School this year in hopes of getting her work hours down to nine a day.

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“I want to come in to work, do the stuff that feels really rewarding, do the work to get there and then have enough time to, like, rest and have a life so that I can come back and be my best self the next day,” said Amick, adding the recent school climate and workload has led to increasing resignations and early retirements.

Nearly all localities started the 2021-22 school year with more vacancies than previous years, and most had vacancies in the areas of special education, early childhood education and elementary education.

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Anne Arundel County Public Schools reported 418 teacher vacancies as of July 27, however, the number is now 385, officials said. In Carroll County, the school system is working to fill 51 educator vacancies.

As of Thursday, Howard County Public Schools has about 170 teacher vacancies, spokesperson Brian Bassett said.

According to state education department data, 13.3% teachers statewide in the 2020-21 school year did not return to the same school in the 2021-22 school year. And 13.6% of new educators in the state are leaving in less than three years.

“It’s a lot of work,” Brown said. “So to have to take on additional work, especially without additional pay, is very burdensome.”

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As of Oct. 15, 2021, voluntary resignation was the top reason for teacher exits at 39.2% statewide. During the 2021-22 school year, 55.4% of the new teachers — those with five years or less tenure — who left had resigned voluntarily.

Amick said the lack of support and heavy workload leads to burnout and pushes both current and potential educators away from the field.

“To have to feel like you have to fight just to be able to do a good job at your job is really frustrating and demoralizing,” Amick said. “And it gives the impression to teachers that they’re not appreciated and that their work isn’t seen and that they’re not wanted.”

For the record

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Parkville High School. The Sun regrets the error.


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