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Illinois helps schools weather critical teaching shortage, but steps remain, study says

Signs are displayed in front of a classroom at Chalmers Elementary school in Chicago, July 13, 2022. An annual study says Illinois schools are taking steps to weather an acute teacher shortage and lists improvements. The study Tuesday, March 26, 2024 by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools shows 90% of schools have at least a serious shortage, struggle to find substitute teachers and face fewer than five and sometimes no candidates for open positions.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois schools have taken steps to weather an acute shortage of teachers with the state’s help, but a survey released Tuesday points to ways to improve training, support and incentives for classroom instructors.

The annual study by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools shows that 9 in 10 schools report a serious or very serious teacher shortage, struggle to find substitute teachers and face fewer than five and sometimes no candidates for open positions — and three-quarters of schools say no more than half of the job hopefuls they see have the proper credentials.

There is a particular dearth of special education and English-learner teachers. Among supporting staff, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists and nurses are critically short. Administrators, too, are in short supply.

Low pay, job demands and burnout have traditionally been root causes of shortfalls, not just in Illinois but nationally. Today’s remote world creates a new distraction, said Gary Tipsord, the regional superintendents association’s executive director.

“It’s competition,” Tipsord said. “When you can live and work anywhere simultaneously, that’s a draw. Public education is in a different economic space today.”

The numbers are similar to those reported in past surveys by the association, which has conducted them annually since 2017. But examples of flexibility, Tipsord said, at the local and state levels are proving successful.

Among them, school administrators responding to the survey pointed to the 2017 school funding overhaul, which directed more dollars to the neediest schools. Other key measures include increasing the number of days substitute teachers may work and, in particular, the number retired educators may substitute teach without affecting their pensions and easing the assessment process for new teachers to obtain a professional license.

Those administrators said steps should include making teacher pensions more attractive, school loan forgiveness, providing money to support teacher preparation in areas with critical shortages, offering more scholarships to education majors and studying salary parity with professions requiring similar licensure and education.

Ensuring teachers are at the heads of classrooms and not overburdened by outside chores would go a long way in preventing burnout, Tipsord said.

On-the-ground support comes from the principal — the school’s instructional leader. The survey found that about 2 in 5 schools have a critical shortage of administrators, more than one-quarter say no more than half of the candidates seeking those jobs are properly credentialed and nearly half have too few candidates for openings. And like the teachers they supervise, burnout over working conditions, increased responsibilities and higher pay in other professions are among the reasons.

Long term, the study recommends emphasis not only on retention but on recruiting teachers among pupils in middle and high schools. Paraprofessionals and teaching assistants who get the teaching bug by working in the classroom should be offered tuition assistance and other support toward earning licenses.

More focused mentoring for teachers and for those instructors who show leadership abilities is necessary, the report said, along with increased funding to recruit principals. People in other careers who want to take up teaching should have obstacles removed and legislation should be approved to ensure those with community college educations get credit hours transferred to universities where they pursue teaching degrees, the report said.

Associated Press

Associated Press

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