Virginia schools continue struggles with growing teacher shortage

By Jordan Meadows-

Jan. 30, 2023: Young students read and practice lessons on iPads on the outside lawn at Prices Fork Elementary School in Blacksburg, Va. (Photo: Jordan Meadows)

The state of Virginia, along with the nation as a whole, is currently facing a crisis in the education system due to a shortage of teachers. 

The shortage of teachers is due to more educators leaving than new ones joining the workforce in recent years. Most of the teachers leaving reported doing so for reasons other than retirement. This has prompted Virginia legislators to discuss potential bills that would provide incentives for teachers, such as increased pay, paid time off and shorter training. 

Low-income school districts, like the New River Valley, are taking steps to address the shortage. Some have implemented recruitment and retention programs, while others have turned to alternative forms of education such as virtual learning. 

Dana A. Robertson, an associate professor of reading and literacy in the School of Education at Virginia Tech, said that areas like the New River Valley are in a worse position than other districts in the state. 

“The smaller rural communities, the lower-income communities, were already at a disadvantage for attracting and retaining employees,” Robertson said. “Because of income differentials, it’s harder to incentivize people who don’t necessarily live in that community already to come to that community to work.” 

Some districts have collaborated with local colleges and universities to provide additional training programs, instructional assistants and internships. Despite these efforts, the shortage of teachers remains a pressing issue for the region and will likely continue to be a major concern for educators and policymakers alike. 

Matthew Williams, an aide to a Virginia state senator, said that overall, most of the legislation being proposed in the general assembly’s current session has failed early in committees.

“The general assembly is completely gridlocked. Nothing is getting done.” Williams said. “The education and health committees have not discussed the teacher shortage nor possible solutions in-depth as of yet.” 

According to the 2022 Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, 50 percent of school staff, including principals and teachers, reported that hiring more instructional assistants would have a substantial positive impact on addressing these issues.

More and more experts believe that the pandemic isn’t the only reason for the shortage. In 2022, the rate of teachers leaving the profession was 12% higher than the pre-pandemic average. 

The shortage of teachers is also affecting various subject areas differently. The number of open positions for special education is almost five times higher than the next highest group, mathematics. Furthermore, about 65 percent of the teachers leaving did not retire but left for other reasons – a 7% increase. Robertson says this is a result of bureaucratic accountability.

“Teachers get into the job to teach and build relationships with students. When you’re spending most of your time doing paperwork and other items for accountability purposes, which are tied to funding, it leaves the position less desirable.” 

Funding per student in the state has been steadily decreasing in recent years. Local Virginia school districts may have to use their own resources or collaborate with one another to solve their particular problems. 

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