By Elisa Ferrell, Board Representative | District 3 Huntsville City Schools
A few months ago, I was headed to a monthly breakfast meeting where the only beverage served is coffee. I don’t drink coffee, so I stopped at McDonalds to grab a sweet tea. The line was short, so I thought it would only be a few minutes and I would be on my way. My short in and out stop turned out to be a test of endurance; 35 minute later I emerged with my $1.29 sweet tea. Fortunately, I gave myself time to stop, so I wasn’t late. The McDonald’s employees looked beleaguered, and there was a sign in the line, please don’t yell at us; we are the ones who showed up to work.
Professor Anthony Klotz of Mays Business School at Texas A&M coined the phrase, The Great Resignation. The phenomenon can be seen in every industry in our city and in our country. Baby Boomers are retiring; others have fatigue with remote or hybrid working environments and have stopped working. Some have become accustomed to working from home and have changed jobs or professions to continue working from home; and as we all know, some are just opting not to work anymore at all, for various reasons. All these situations are happening in businesses and industry, but they are also happening in schools.
Fewer and fewer college students are choosing education as a profession. Dr. Jim Purcell of the Alabama Commission for Higher Education recently addressed school boards from across the state. He told us there has been a 58% decline in college graduates pursuing a secondary education degree from 2003 to 2018. Similar declines can be seen at the elementary level. He also said that 30% of all classrooms in the state are being taught by teachers who are teaching out of their field; not having a major nor minor in the field they are teaching. He added 1700 secondary teachers are teaching with emergency certificates, and that each year 8% of teachers in Alabama leave the field. We see similar attrition with our CNP workers, our custodial staff, nurses, and aides. To further complicate things for new teachers, they couldn’t have a student teaching year alongside a mentor. Schools were closed or limited access to visitors because of COVID. These new teachers were thrown into the proverbial deep end, with book knowledge, but not practical experience and some of them will not return. Staff shortages mean larger classroom sizes. Larger classroom sizes lead to more teacher fatigue and less one on one time with students.
We are working on solutions. The state of Alabama has created a Teacher Shortage Task Force to review the data and determine what can be done to attract and retain teaching talent. One step taken in Huntsville is increasing salaries. It isn’t enough though. If you have a student who is interested in education; encourage that interest. If you know of someone looking for work, send them our way. We may have to resort to creative means to find teachers for our classrooms. Steps like working to remove the retirement penalty if retirees come back to work, hiring part time teachers, hiring teachers from industry. The challenge belongs to all of us because this challenge impacts all our futures.