As the academic year gears up, Delaware schools still have more than 500 teacher vacancies to fill.
“We think about it as a perfect storm of conditions,” said Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association.
Schools expected to have a higher than normal number of retirements, partly because of the stresses of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, that’s been coupled with an increase in student enrollment of more than 7%, Ingram said.
At the same time, “We have fewer graduates from the educator programs than our surrounding states, which leads to the teacher shortage in our schools,” she said.
Some education officials believe that schools themselves — and even the media — are to blame for the teacher shortage.
Bradley Layfield, principal of Sussex Central High School, said school leadership plays a role in attracting and retaining teachers.
“As an administrator, I think that we bear some of this in how we treat our teachers and how we support our teachers to then support students,” he said.
Kendall Massett, executive director of Delaware Charter Schools Network, said more attention should be paid to the teachers who do decide to work in the First State.
“While of course we need to get more teachers in and we want to bring more teachers to Delaware … I really wish we weren’t talking about that,” she said. “We need to talk about the fact that we have so many amazing educators that are staying. We are not talking about them.”
Massett said the perception that there is a teacher shortage is caused, in large part, by how the media talks about it.
“When you focus on the bad and when you focus on the challenges, that’s what you’re going to get,” she said.
The situation frustrates districts in many ways.
“As a superintendent, we’re promising and guaranteeing that children are getting a quality education, and you’re doing everything you can to provide the best quality education you can,” said Jeff Menzer, superintendent of Colonial School District.
“The more you string out these vacancies and the longer these vacancies appear and occur, the harder it is to say that to the public,” he said. “That’s really going to be the struggle over the next several years.”
Delaware isn’t alone in grappling with a teacher shortage. States across the country are experiencing the same thing.
The teacher shortage has been building for a decade, Menzer said.
“There’s really not a lot of teachers that are coming out of school with those certification areas or that are out there working right now in those fields,” he said.
A list of Delaware’s vacancies shows that teachers are needed for every grade level, particularly in math, science, special education and world languages.
Charter schools aren’t experiencing as many vacancies as district schools, Massett said, in part because charters have more flexibility and fewer layers of bureaucracy than traditional public schools.
For example, she said, some charters have a co-teaching model where two teachers are present in the classroom, which allows charters to make a flex schedule and have some of the co-teachers cover other classes.
Districts are coping with the shortages in different ways, Menzer said.
A shortage doesn’t necessarily have to result in teachers taking on additional students, he said.
The state has in recent years increased the number of grow-your-own teacher residency programs and alternative routes to certification to help prospective teachers get experience at a young age or obtain their certifications in a nontraditional way.
The state has also established a 15-member Education Compensation Committee to look at how teachers are paid, partly because surrounding states are significantly increasing teacher pay, and Delaware doesn’t want its teachers poached.
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In 2020, Delaware teachers earned a mean salary of $64,853, which ranked 20th in the nation.
The average starting salary for a Delaware teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $43,092. In Pennsylvania, that number is $44,674, in Maryland it’s $47,961 and in New Jersey, it’s $44,258.
The compensation committee and the teacher academy pathways programs are an important step toward solving the problem, Layfield said.
But “there are many things we can do and it’s not all about pay,” he said. “It’s about making teachers feel supported.”
Layfield said many teachers have told him they choose where to work based on the level of administrative support.
Menzer said a major challenge for superintendents is finding creative ways to meet the demand without burdening teachers with more students.
Some districts with vacancies distribute students to different teachers while they wait to fill positions, but Menzer said Colonial didn’t want to do that.
“You leave those classes in the schedule, and as a superintendent, you find creative ways to fill the positions and get students in front of qualified educators in a qualified educational program,” Menzer said, “and the class size won’t change a bit.”
The majority of Colonial’s vacancies are at William Penn High School.
However, Colonial’s “bench” is all dried up, Menzer said. It doesn’t have the normal pool of candidates waiting months or years for a spot to open up to get into the district.
Layfield and Menzer said more teachers are earning their certifications in nontraditional ways in recent years.
“We’ve gotten some very good teachers in the last couple of years that have come to us from the private business world that can bring that real world experience,” Layfield said.
“Now we need people in those programs,” Menzer said.
Massett said charters are able to offer a variety of teacher residency programs and also can be flexible with employees’ availability.
“Sometimes you have somebody that doesn’t want to work full time,” she said. “Schools can flex the schedule to allow that person to be part-time and they fill in the gaps in other ways.”
DSEA’s Ingram said there are lower retention rates for educators in urban schools, “which is a huge contributing factor to some of the shortages we’re seeing.”
The real impact of the unfilled positions will be felt by other teachers, she said.
“If we had the adequate staff then we can have smaller class sizes which we know is a definite leading factor in the success of our students,” she said. “We also know that it’s very difficult for an individual teacher who has a larger class to make sure that they’re providing the individual attention each student needs.”
Having additional students in every class means a teacher will need to spend more time grading papers and tests, coming up with lesson plan materials, spending individual time with students who need academic or emotional help, and other daily responsibilities.
“It is a trickle-down effect into every aspect of the school system,” Ingram said. “When you have these vacancies, everyone has to do more, which puts more on their plate, which overloads a system that’s already stressed out.”
In addition to a teacher shortage, many schools still need a deeper pool of substitute teachers.
Red Clay, for example, said it needs an additional 18, the most of any district.
Many people might be qualified to substitute and just don’t know it, Menzer said.
Menzer suggested that concerned citizens approach their local district and see if they have, or can earn, the certifications to teach.
All open positions in Delaware schools can be found through a portal published on the state’s website, which is updated daily.
Here is a roundup of vacancies in Delaware school districts and charter schools. Each district classifies their needs differently. Some filter the openings by grade level, some do it by subject, and some do a combination of the two.
Appoquinimink, 62 openings
Appo’s vacancies include two math teachers, an English teacher, two social studies teachers, three science teachers, four psychologists, a world language teacher, and seven special education workers.
Brandywine, 25 openings
Brandywine’s openings include six student supporters, two elementary school teachers, a middle and high school teacher, four subs, and two paraeducators.
Caesar Rodney, 63 openings
Caesar Rodney needs 14 elementary school teachers, seven middle school teachers, five student support workers, 23 athletic coaches, and three paraprofessionals.
Cape Henlopen, 58 openings
Cape Henlopen’s vacancies include an elementary school teacher, two paraeducators, nine substitute teachers, and three special support workers.
Capital, 131 openings
Capital’s openings include 20 elementary school teachers, 21 middle school teachers, 23 high school teachers, 27 student support workers, and 20 paraeducators.
Christina, 120 openings
Christina’s vacancies include 18 elementary school teachers, 15 middle school teachers, 23 high school teachers, 27 student support workers, seven school nutrition workers, and six paraeducators.
Colonial, 38 openings
Colonial needs three elementary school teachers, five middle school teachers, nine high school teachers, seven paraprofessionals, and four student service workers.
Delmar, 28 openings
Delmar’s vacancies include seven middle school teachers, 10 high school teachers, seven substitute teachers, and two school nutrition workers.
Indian River, 37 openings
Indian River’s openings include one elementary school teacher, two middle school teachers, two high school teachers, four paraeducators, nine special support workers, and five substitutes.
Lake Forest, 38 openings
Lake forest needs six early childhood workers, three middle school teachers, eight high school teachers, five student support workers, and a substitute teacher.
Laurel, 72 openings
Laurel needs four elementary school teachers, seven middle school teachers, eight high school teachers, 11 student support workers, and six substitutes.
Milford, 19 openings
Milford’s vacancies include four elementary school teachers, three high school teachers, three subs, and five student support workers.
New Castle VoTech, 12 openings
New Castle VoTech needs a sub, a school nutrition workers, three paraeducators, six high school teachers, and a custodian.
POLYTECH, 7 openings
POLYTECH needs a high school teacher, a substitute teacher, a child nutrition workers, an administrative supervisor, an athletic trainer, a custodian, and a tech worker.
Red Clay, 84 openings
Red Clay needs 11 elementary school teachers, 15 middle school teachers, 10 high school teachers, 11 student support workers, 18 subs, and a bus driver.
Seaford, 36 openings
Seaford’s vacancies include three elementary school teachers, three middle school teachers, nine high school teachers, four paraeducators, six subs, and a school constable.
Smyrna, 15 openings
Smyrna needs two elementary school teachers, four high school teachers, four subs, a school nutrition worker, a secretary, and three custodians
Sussex Tech, 7 openings
Sussex Tech needs a custodian, a tech worker, three substitute teachers, a student support worker, and a high school teacher.
Woodbridge, 30 openings
Woodbridge’s openings include two elementary school teachers, four middle school teachers, eight high school teachers, three paraeducators, three school nutrition workers, and a substitute teacher.
Academia Antonia Alonso, 11 openings
Academia Antonia Alonso’s vacancies include two elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers, two school nutrition workers, a custodian, and a bus driver.
Academy of Dover, 4 openings
Academy of Dover Charter School needs a paraprofessional, a middle school teacher, an elementary school teacher, and a cafeteria worker.
Campus Community, 9 openings
Campus Community needs two elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers, a sub, three paraeducators, and a custodian.
Charter School of New Castle, 12 openings
Charter School of New Castle needs three elementary school teachers, seven middle school teachers, a sub, and a student support worker.
Charter School of Wilmington, 8 openings
Charter School of Wilmington needs three high school teachers, a substitute, a secretary, a girls volleyball coach, and two administrative workers.
Delaware Military Academy, 3 openings
Delaware Military Academy needs a boys lacrosse coach, an ROTC instructor, and a science substitute teacher.
Early College High School at Delaware State University, 1 opening
Early College High School at Delaware State University needs a high school math teacher.
EastSide Charter, 13 openings
East Side Charter is fully staffed but is looking to deepen their workforce by hiring five elementary school teachers and eight middle school teachers.
First State Military Academy, 2 openings
First State Military Academy needs a boys soccer coach and a math teacher.
First State Montessori Academy, 1 opening
First State Montessori Academy needs an elementary school teacher
Freire Charter School Wilmington, 2 openings
Freire Charter School Wilmington needs a high school Spanish and high school special education
Gateway Lab School, 2 openings
Gateway Lab School needs a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher.
Great Oaks, 9 openings
Great Oaks needs four high school teachers, two middle school teachers, a paraeducator, a student support worker, and an administrative worker.
Kuumba Academy, 11 openings
Kuumba Academy needs six elementary school teachers, four middle school teachers, and a student support worker.
Las Americas Aspira Academy, 3 openings
Las Americas Aspira Academy needs two special education paraprofessionals and a high school nurse.
MOT Charter, 11 openings
MOT Charter needs one middle school teacher, two high school teachers, four subs, a school nutrition worker, and three athletic coaches.
Newark Charter, 4 openings
Newark Charter needs three long-term subs and a school psychologist.
Odyssey Charter, 17 openings
Odyssey’s vacancies include an elementary school teacher, two high school teachers, three subs, three school nutrition workers, and a custodian.
Positive Outcomes Charter, 0 openings
Providence Creek Academy, 15 openings
Providence Creek Academy’s openings include two elementary school teachers, a middle school teacher, and two subs.
Sussex Academy, 7 openings
Sussex Academy needs a high school teacher, two subs, and four athletic coaches.
Sussex Montessori, 7 openings
Sussex Montessori needs four elementary school teachers, a paraeducator, a student support worker, and a reading specialist.
Thomas A. Edison Charter, 9 openings
Thomas A. Edison Charter needs six elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers, and a student support worker.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz and on LinkedIn
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