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Illinois schools struggle to fill teacher vacancies. A district hires international teachers to meet the needs


As another school year approaches, school principals across the country are facing a teacher shortage.

In southwest Chicago, Steven Wrobleski is concerned. School begins August 11 and still has openings at LaSalle Peru Township High School.

“We currently have a Physics and Chemistry professor position for which we have no candidates at the moment. I am really concerned about how we are going to be able to fill that position,” Wrobleski said.

“Where are we going to find science and math teachers? There is anguish about ‘are we going to find people, quality people?'”

Wrobleski is now the superintendent of the district he once attended. And he said the covid-19 pandemic made the shortage worse. According to a recent Rand Corp. survey, nearly 1 in 4 teachers said they would be able to quit their job by the end of the 2020-21 school year. Before the pandemic, it was 1 in 6.

“People are not educated to teach through a computer … they want to be face to face,” he said. “Six years ago, we would have an English or Social Studies vacancy posted. In five days, we would have 75 to 100 applicants. And this past school year, for one of our math positions we had three applicants.”

Frontline Education surveyed nearly 1,200 school and district leaders across the country. Frontline is a company that helps elementary schools recruit and train educators. It revealed that 2 out of 3 respondents reported a teacher shortage, and 75% of city school districts are dealing with a shortage. That compares with 65% in rural areas and 60% in suburban districts.

Innovative thinking

The shortage is forcing educators to think outside the box before children return to the classroom. To fill vacancies in the Peoria Public School District, Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat hired teachers from other countries.

“We had to go international because our group in the United States is actually very, very dry, and you can’t just sit back and wait for people to apply for positions online. We have to go after them,” he said. “So we have 27 that come from the Philippines, two from the Dominican Republic and one from Cameroon.”

It’s all part of the multilingual visiting international teacher program.

According to the state’s website, the Illinois Board of Education may sponsor teachers from other countries, also known as visiting international teachers.

“It is a three to five year program and it is a cultural exchange program. Then the teachers will also learn about the United States and the children will also learn about their countries,” he said.

Desmoulin-Kherat said that in 2015, when he accepted the superintendent position, the district had 79 openings. Now, there are only three due to aggressive recruiting strategies that include contract bonuses and compensation for candidate referrals.

In 2018, the district created and invested in a recruiter position, leading to 23 new teachers, Desmoulin-Kherat said. The district also targeted student teachers and offered them jobs early.

“We are using at least eight different strategies simultaneously to really combat this national crisis,” Desmoulin-Kherat said.

And if a teacher leaves for a higher paying job, Desmoulin-Kherat says Peoria Public Schools will match that salary.

“Our thinking is to never let a crisis go to waste. We had to re-imagine how we approach recruiting and retention because you can’t wait for people to apply for jobs,” he said. “In 2021, we have three openings for the next school year: two Art positions and one Technology position. When all is said and done, we are talking about 100 new teachers in the classroom as of August 2021.”

Multiple factors contribute to shortages

The Frontline study shows multiple reasons for the national teacher shortage. Locate a limited pool of qualified applicants; salary and benefits are lacking compared to other careers; and a declining number of graduates from schools of new education.

Wrobleski said he has not hired anyone from other countries, but is working with colleges and universities to help fill the jobs. And you are already worried about the next school years.

“However, I am concerned. And when I look at my own staff and I see a population that is approaching retirement,” he said. “It is a challenge.”

If your current seat is still vacant at the beginning of the school year, Wrobleski said some teachers on staff will have to teach six classes instead of five. That creates another challenge: teachers doing more with less.

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