Educate Oklahoma: Teacher Shortage


Friday, August 26th 2016, 6:14 pm
By: News 9


News 9 polling found more than half of Oklahomans would encourage a family member or friend pursue a career in education, despite ongoing issues in the state’s education system.

The teacher shortage has districts competing for staff. It is especially tough for the state's largest districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where it takes dozens of hires just to keep up with attrition.

That is leading one of those districts to try a new approach:  hiring faster and hiring early.

The Tulsa Public School District created a hiring system that can take a candidate from first interview to final offer, in a matter of hours.

Katie Haile moved to Tulsa from Nicoma Park, where she taught two years. 

"It did make a little bit of difference knowing i could leave here today and know i have a job,” says Haile. “That's a big relief instead of having to wait for schools to call you and then they don't call you."

She looked around for openings, but says smaller districts did not have many after downsizing staff to match their budget.

"I guess what draws me to them is that there's more opportunity here than with a smaller district, because with the budget cuts, many of them just aren't hiring," says Haile.

Tulsa Public Schools did not have as many openings as usual, but also did not have as many applicants.

Bradley Eddy is in charge of hiring for Tulsa.

"So even though the number of applications is down, the number of vacancies is also down. That's our silver lining,” says Bradley Eddy with Tulsa Public Schools.

Eddy says the turnover of teachers forced the district to create a new model for hiring, with faster paperwork and instant interviews to qualify candidates.

In Oklahoma City, the district adapted to the chronic shortage with constant hiring.

Mark Myers, spokesman for Oklahoma City Public Schools, says the district competes with suburbs on salaries, but still has teachers leave to work out of state. The district is especially short in a few areas.

 “Special Ed, math, sciences.  These are very difficult categories to fill when it comes to teachers so those are areas that's we're always recruiting for,” says Myers.

Haile went through the process, from introductions to teaching a sample lesson, in a single morning.

"Teaching is still a great profession, it's fulfilling and satisfying.  It doesn't always get the same respect that it used to get, but it still fully deserves that and i think that pendulum will swing back,” says Eddy.

As class sizes grow, students get less individual attention, and could be more likely to fall through the cracks. In 2014, more than 3,600 Oklahoma students dropped out of school. But, what about children being pushed out through suspensions?

High School math and physics teacher Andrew Smith says the demands of teaching and maintaining order are exhausting.

“It's so integrated really, it's hard to separate the two.  I teach and behavior manage all day long, which is probably why I'm so tired at the end of the day. I've done both simultaneously, all day long," says Smith.

It is a challenge many teachers say is increasing. It is causing schools to reconsider how they handle behavior. Tulsa is one district moving away from the idea of sending students out of the classroom.

Dr. Kathy Seibold heads a new effort to help teachers resolve issues with students before it escalates into a suspension. She does this by informing parents early when there is a problem and encouraging them to come in and work it out.

“Of course we want to see suspensions come down, and referrals come down.  We want teachers to have the tools in their classroom so they're not sending students to the office as often,” says Seibold. “We have to get really good at providing those opportunities and making sure that parents understand that we do want them in the building.  And we want them involved.  It's critical to education that parents are involved.”

Schools and Parent-Teacher groups find parents are not as involved as children reach the upper grades, a trend they would like to turn around.

“There's a misconception that some parents feel if they're too nosy or too involved with their children’s school work, they feel like a helicopter parent,” says Alison Taylor, a parent of three children in Moore Public Schools and recruiter for the PTA. “Always know your teachers or kids’ teachers, even in middle and high school.  I think it's important for them to know you're a parent and you do care.”

Dr. Ebony Johnson has spent the last three years as a high school principal, and in that role, sometimes suspended students.

“And it didn't matter if we gave them five, ten, 15 days out of school, the behaviors were not changing regardless of how long they were sent home,” says Dr. Johnson.

She believes engaging parents is the key to improving student behavior.

“And, I truly believe it changed, the parental component piece, the culture of our building.  Parents knew we expected them to come in.  The correspondence I sent out says we can't have school successfully unless you're in the building,” says Johnson.