Many Memphis students started their school year with something important missing from their classroom: a permanent teacher.
About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.
“We’ve had 80 vacancies come up over the last couple of weeks,” Hopson said. “There will be a full press for teachers.”
The number of open teaching jobs hasn’t gone down much since the last week of July, when the district had 123 vacancies to fill. But the district is in better shape than it was at this time last year, Hopson emphasized on Monday.
And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville Public Schools, a slightly smaller district, has 24 open teaching jobs. Knox County Schools, the state’s third-largest district, needs more than 40 teachers. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though vacancies exist in nearly every subject.
In cases where a long-term vacancy is expected, such as if a teacher is out on disability, Shelby County Schools has reached out to retired teachers to fill the positions, said spokeswoman Natalia Powers. But in cases where the district is still looking for a permanent hire, substitute teachers are manning the classrooms.
Briana Johnson, a junior at East High School, said her environmental science class had a substitute teacher Monday.
“There wasn’t a plan or anything. We really just sat around,” she said. “It’s not a class I’m planning on keeping, but still, we didn’t do anything today.”
The first days of class establish the tone for the entire year, making even short-term teacher vacancies a long-term barrier to student learning, said Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association.
“I don’t know how the district expects to achieve its goals if they don’t have the staff in place,” Williams said.
In a district of high teacher turnover, with 600-800 new teachers every fall, some vacancies are expected, Powers said. Overall, the district retained 89 percent of its teachers and 93 percent of its highest-performing teachers.
“It’s a revolving door in the sense that you have people that have different circumstances – families, pregnancies — so it’s a changing pool, and that’s what makes it a little bit challenging,” Powers said. “I mean, 108 in a pool of 6,000; it’s very good.”
Reporters Grace Tatter and Katie Kull contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the number of open teaching positions listed on Metro Nashville Public Schools’ website, about 80. Some of those positions had in fact been filled. The correct number of vacancies is 34.
Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year
A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.
Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.
A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.
Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.
In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”
Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.
You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.
Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos
Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.
“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.
“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”
The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.
The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”
“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”
As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”