At a time when many say the need for teachers is at an all-time high, some local districts are not able to hire enough professionals to fill the spots they have.
Virtual learning in the last two years meant some students fell significantly behind, according to state data. It’s unlikely this year was enough to catch all students back up. Besides that challenge, many students and teachers missed a lot of school this year because of various illnesses, including COVID-19.
The number of people applying to replace retiring teachers has also declined, administrators for some local districts say.
“You’ve got fewer people coming into the profession,” said Scott DiMauro, the president of the Ohio Education Association, Ohio’s largest teacher union. “And then you’ve got people who are already teaching feeling kind of besieged and thinking about other options, and that creates a real, real problem for our schools, for our students and for our state.”
According to data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, education degrees accounted for 9.6% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in Ohio public universities in 2009, but by 2018, that percentage had declined to 6.3%. In that span, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded across all fields rose from 38,493 to 49,963. But the number of education degrees went in the opposite direction — from about 3,700 a year through 2014, into a year after year decline that hit 3,180 in 2018.
Less than 15% of teachers in Ohio were under the age of 30 between 2011 and 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and nearly 19% of Ohio teachers were over the age of 55. The 2011-2012 school year was the most recent year this survey was taken.
Brandon Young, an education major at Wright State who will receive his undergrad degree next spring, said he moved out of an engineering major in college into education. He’s focusing on grades four to nine in social studies and science.
“The fact that you have the opportunity to be that change, you can make a positive example, you can change your students’ lives for the better is something that just resonates with me a lot and it’s something that has been keeping me motivated to pursue this career,” Young said.
As the pandemic forced schools online, and some schools stayed there for long stretches, many students fell behind academically, particularly the students who have the highest learning needs. The overall performance index on state tests dropped from 84 in 2019 to 72 in 2021.
Teachers are working to help students catch up, but there are hurdles.
Brian Cayot, a Centerville high school math teacher and the president of the Centerville teachers union, said he would have a few kids in his classes out for quarantine or illness, then get those kids back only to have other kids leave.
Many teachers typically have one period during the school day to plan lessons, grade papers or do other work. Cayot said teachers at the high school were often covering other classes during their plan period because their coworkers were out sick. That meant doing more work outside of school, which was exhausting.
It was a constant cycle of planning lessons, replanning lessons, giving individual help and catching kids up, Cayot said. It’s not over, either. He estimates it will take at least five years for kids to get caught up from the pandemic.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Cayot said. “It’s not going to happen in one year.”
Dan Tarpey, director of human resources for Centerville City Schools, said district retirements this year have been on par with before the pandemic. No teachers have chosen to leave in the last three years before their contract was up for the year, he said.
Most of the people leaving this year are doing so because of retirement, Tarpey said, though he said a few have cited pandemic-related stress.
But he said he is also getting fewer applicants for the district’s open positions.
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
That the lack of applications is hitting Centerville is significant — the district has high-performing students, strong resources and comparably good pay and benefits for their teachers.
It’s not just smaller teacher application pools in general. There are also greater needs for math teachers and science teachers at the high school level, as well as special education teachers.
West Carrollton human resources director Devon Berry, a former math teacher and Dayton Public Schools principal, said he thinks sometimes teachers deter their students from teaching by talking about low pay and long hours. He said that while teachers aren’t paid enough for their impact on society and it’s not a highly lucrative career, many local teachers make a middle-class wage.
“I think sometimes we are the worst advertisers for our own profession,” Berry said.
The lowest starting salary for a full-time teacher in Dayton-area public schools is around $35,000. Pay varies by school district, with some districts’ salary scale topping out around $70,000, while others can go past $100,000 for the most experienced teachers.
Teacher retirement rules have been changing in Ohio, but next year they’ll settle at a point where teachers with 35 years of service can retire with a pension paying 77% of the average of their five highest years’ salary.
The diversity problem
According to the Ohio Department of Education, 94% of teachers in Ohio were white in the 2020-2021 school year.
Especially in districts like Dayton Public Schools, where most of the students are not white, there’s a strong desire for teachers who look like the students. But there are also benefits for white students to have people of color teaching them, as students then interact with people different from them daily.
While white students made up almost 70% of Ohio’s school-aged children in the 2020-2021 school year, according to ODE there are rapidly increasing numbers of Hispanic, multiracial and Asian kids in Ohio’s schools. Hispanic student enrollment has grown by 116% since the 2009-2010 school year to last school year, according to ODE, and the Asian student population has grown by almost 51%.
While they are needed in the classroom, many teaching candidates of color face additional challenges when going to school: their families are on average less wealthy than white families, so affording college and having debt may be a significant barrier.
There’s also an effort to get more disabled teachers into the profession, as well as teachers who are LGBTQ+.
Rochonda Nenonene and Novea McIntosh, both University of Dayton education professors, said part of their work in teaching at UD is working with people to understand many backgrounds.
McIntosh has a class devoted to teaching diverse groups. In that class, the UD teaching students are paired with students who don’t speak English as a first language, taught how to work with immigrant families and value all students in the class.
“As an immigrant myself, I’m very passionate about it because I know and I understand what it means to be an immigrant in a dominant space,” McIntosh said.
Teaching pipeline solutions
Centerville and West Carrollton schools are two of the districts who have teachers working with Wright State and University of Dayton teaching students to mentor them through college. The effort has been in place for about two years.
But recruiting teachers doesn’t start when candidates graduate from college. It starts younger, at the elementary and middle-school levels.
Dayton Public, Trotwood schools and Mad River Local are working together on a program that would recruit future teachers from those schools as sophomores and send them to a participating local university. The students would then come back to teach at that school.
Elizabeth Lolli, DPS superintendent, said the program is launching in the fall.
DiMauro suggested that removing financial barriers, by paying starting teachers more and relieving student debt, would help future teachers. He said Ohio should do more to properly fund schools and education.
“We also can’t continue to exploit people who have chosen to commit their lives to serving students in a way that is harmful to their interests, because in the end, that’s not good for kids,” DiMauro said.
Trent Fuller will be graduating with his master’s degree in teaching from Wright State in just a few days. Fuller plans to become a certified math and science middle-school teacher.
Fuller said he initially went into engineering in college but wasn’t feeling fulfilled. As someone who had always helped younger siblings with their homework, he realized he was good at tutoring his fellow students and switched his major.
He said he knows next year’s teaching isn’t going to be easy. But it’ll be worth it.
“I chose middle schoolers because I felt like there’s not always a lot of positive male role models in middle schoolers’ lives and that’s really a turning point for a lot of these kids and the path they’re gonna go down,” Fuller said.
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