It’s two weeks before students walk in the door at Greene County Schools in North Carolina and Patrick Miller, the district’s superintendent, has his eyes on a zero.That’s the number of applications for six pending job openings in the rural district with approximately 2,800 students and around 460 staffers, including 300 teachers.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had this many vacancies at the beginning of the school year,” said Miller, the superintendent since 2008 who started as a teacher in the district five years earlier.Catching up on hiring While Friday’s jobs report is getting some nice overall grades for data including 943,000 jobs added in July and a jobless rate that’s dropping to 5.4%, the same numbers underscore a tough assignment: hiring enough teachers and school staff just before the start of the school year. First, the good news: In July, employment in public schools climbed 221,000 and 40,000 in private schools, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That tops the gains for the sector in June and May, agency data shows. The July jobs report showed “more hiring back of educators and support personnel in one month than we’ve seen, I think, in decades,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a Friday interview on Yahoo Finance. However, the leader of the union with 1.7 million members also noted, “there’s a big teacher shortage now.” That includes fields like special education, bilingual instruction, math, nurses, guidance counselors and more, Weingarten said. The overall job numbers showed “a strong contribution from education hiring, as more schools than normal retained teachers through the summer and ramped up hiring for a planned return to instruction in the fall,” said Noah Williams, an economist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. The upward trend, however, is threatened by the virus spread, Williams added.School employment still hasn’t recovered So big picture strides are being made. Now for the bad news. Even with the gain, employment in the public and private school setting is still down 412,000 from pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, Bureau of Labor Statistics noted. Of course, it can be tricky comparing education job numbers in the winter and summer. Most of all, school is in full swing during the winter and off during the summer. In Miller’s case, the openings are mostly for jobs in the middle school, ranging from teaching positions to a school counselor. If needs be, he’ll figure out some “creative scheduling” and substitutes, but he’d rather not get to that point. Above all, Miller wants to fill an open listing for a school counselor amid rising COVID-19 case counts that could fuel all sorts of anxiety and emotional harm for teenage students. “We have to make sure we are looking after the whole child to make sure we get the academic outcomes we are hoping to get,” he said. So Miller’s going to keep looking out for more résumé — just like many more school administrators across the country.Teacher shortages and turnover In May, there were 334,000 job openings in state and local education jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Though it’s preliminary data, that’s the highest number since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started counting monthly job opening data in the sector in 2000. Teacher shortages and turnover are not a new phenomenon. It’s a tough job and the pay — for the most part — isn’t great. As of May 2020, all types of education, training and library jobs paid a yearly median salary of $52,380, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s around $10,500 more than the median pay for all jobs, the agency said. But the pandemic’s job stresses might be making a bad situation worse for educators who’ve had to juggle remote and in-person schooling while also taking care of their own kids. One in four teachers were thinking about leaving their job at the end of the year, according to a June survey from the RAND Corporation. Before the pandemic, one in six teachers were eyeing the exit, RAND researchers noted. One third of the surveyed teachers were solely responsible for their own kids while teaching, researchers added. When the RAND Corporation polled ex-teachers earlier this year, the top reason for leaving was that the stress and disappointment weren’t worth it. Back in Greene County, Miller doesn’t need a survey to see the trend. “Even outside of COVID, we were having issue with the teaching pipeline being a trickle,” he said, adding, “COVID has just exacerbated that.”