GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Days before the first day of classes, several West Michigan schools are scrambling to fill open teacher positions.
From kindergarten to high school, some students won’t have a permanent teacher until after the 2018-2018 school year starts.
“Unfortunately, this is the reality facing school districts — not just Grand Rapids Public Schools, but across the state and across the nation,” said GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt. “There is a teacher shortage crisis.”
GRPS students head back to school Monday, but there’s still at least 15 teaching jobs unfilled on their employment website. Retired teachers may step in as substitute teachers.
Helmholdt told 24 Hour News 8 that they’ve run into issues finding qualified candidates. Science, math, and special education teachers are among the most difficult to find, according to Helmholdt.
“That’s something that is a constant challenge throughout the school year, not just at the beginning of the year,” he said.
“You can’t say there aren’t jobs out there, there are plenty of vacancies,” Helmholdt added.
The vacancies are not limited to GRPS; 13 high school and 15 elementary school teacher jobs were posted Tuesday on the Kent Intermediate School District website.
Kent ISD works with hundreds of schools in the area. The agency’s superintendent, Ron Caniff, talked to 24 Hour News 8 about the ongoing struggle to find teachers.
“It is accurate to say that there is overall a shortage within the state of Michigan,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff.
Caniff explained that in the 2008-2009 school year, about 24,000 students were going into some sort of teaching program at a Michigan college or university.
The number plummeted to about 7,800 prospective teachers during the 2015-2016 school year, according to Caniff.
“The number of individuals going into the teaching profession has dropped by about two-thirds [or] about 66 percent overall in less than a ten-year period,” Caniff said, calling the drop “profound.”
GRPS is working to change the trend. This year, the district is launching the Academy of Teaching and Learning at Innovation Central High School. It’s meant to get students interested in education jobs sooner by create a teaching pipeline that leads back to the district.
“We know we need to grow our own talent,” said Helmholdt.
GRPS began more aggressive teacher recruitment well before this year. Helmholdt said the district has a talent acquisition manager who visits colleges to recruit. They also bus students over from Wayne State University to tour Grand Rapids and GRPS facilities.
The competition is tight: GRPS is battling every other district in the area for employees.
“We’re learning from our corporate friends that if we want to recruit that talent, we’ve got to put a little extra effort into it,” said Helmholdt.