The Perfect Enemy | Idaho view: Idaho is running out of qualified teachers
July 1, 2022

Idaho view: Idaho is running out of qualified teachers

Idaho view: Idaho is running out of qualified teachers  Times-News

Read Time:5 Minute

It’s getting tougher to find qualified teachers willing to work in Idaho.

Not that anyone should be surprised.

In its survey of more than 90 Idaho school districts, the Idaho State Board of Education found more than 700 teacher vacancies went unfilled by people who had earned a teaching certificate.

To earn a certificate requires students to spend the time and effort to graduate from an accredited teaching academy. That’s where they are trained how to manage children with unique personalities, separate learning styles and different backgrounds.

They get that training before entering a classroom.

The gap has extended beyond the typically hard-to-find people who work in special education and counseling or teach science and math.

Among the comments forwarded to the State Board:

“The number of people leaving the profession is concerning (both teachers and administrators). Special education has no applicant pool.”

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“I am very concerned about being fully staffed in the fall. We need five math and six science teachers along with a number of special ed teachers. Also, we have never had a hard time filling the necessary elementary positions, and this year it is going to be a challenge.”

“The crisis we have been talking about for the last 10 years is here. I have 40 staff members in the bottom right corner of my salary scale. Not sure how we can (function in)a year in which eight to 10 teachers retire at once.”

“It’s going to be impossible to fill all of these positions. We need help.”

Filling the gap are people who take an alternative route to certification. The process may fill the seat and set the candidate toward earning a certificate within a few years. It also means that these people will learn the art of managing a classroom on the job — with the result of even heavier turnover.

Chief among the culprits is the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted one if not two school years, imposed new challenges to teaching and subjected students to greater anxiety and isolation.

It’s also a matter of resources. Idaho took some major steps forward in the recent legislative session: the largest school budget increase in this century, money for all-day kindergarten and the means to help pay down student loans for teachers willing to work in rural settings.

But that has not erased decades of legislative neglect. Idaho remains in last place in terms of the amount of money it allocates to each of its pupils. As a result, the average teaching salary in Idaho is lower than what is offered in each of the Gem State’s neighbors and all but six states. If they can’t find more money doing the same work elsewhere, some Idaho educators simply gravitate to better compensation in other professions.

Then there’s Idaho’s political environment.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations documented “a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers who seem to perceive a climate that disparages their efforts and belittles their contributions. The vast majority of comments … express concern or dissatisfaction with specific aspects of their work or, more broadly, with conditions surrounding the public education environment in Idaho. … The general tone of dissatisfaction and sense of being under-appreciated may … directly affect the state’s ability to ensure a steady supply of dedicated, highly effective teachers in all of Idaho’s public schools.”

Since then, lawmakers have engaged in a crusade to expose nonexistent indoctrination of public school students in so-called “critical race theory.” It makes for good political theater, but it sends a chilling message to teachers who want to present an accurate picture of American history.

Throw in the recent legislative threats to jail librarians — and the attempts to ban books at the local level.

Don’t forget the Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose president, Wayne Hoffman, called the Gem State’s public schools “grotesque,” and would drain away scarce resources into vouchers for the private education of wealthier children. By the way, the Freedom Foundation won a lot of legislative elections in last month’s primary.

Last but not least is the growing instability at the local level. As Idaho Education News reported, more than a third of Idaho’s 115 school districts have hired a new superintendent within the past two years.That’s matched by an infiltration of school boards by ideologues and fringe candidates more concerned about scoring points than educating kids.

Who’s paying the price for this?

The child sitting at his desk.

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