TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) As the back-to-school season is in full swing, districts are not only focused on getting kids back into the classroom, but having enough teachers to staff them.
A shortage of certified teachers has been a nationwide trend for several years now, worsened by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and many teachers leaving the profession.
The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) confirmed to News Channel 11 Thursday the state currently has just over 1,000 teacher vacancies.
A May 2022 report from the state board of education shows the most vacancies are in general education (K-5), special education (k-12) and math (9-12).
Local districts that were reported to have zero vacancies include Greene County, Greeneville City, Hawkins County and Sullivan County Schools.
In Johnson City, a recent population boom has resulted in the need for more teachers as more kids enter the school system, according to district leaders.
“We have a posting now, an emergency posting, for elementary school teachers. And that is due to growth,” said Dr. Steve Barnett, Superintendent of Johnson City Schools.
A law change that began July 1, 2022 now allows retired teachers to come back to the classroom without losing their retirement benefits.
Several local systems have not had to utilize it yet, but are glad the option is on the table.
“It’s a win, win for the teachers and the school systems,” said Barnett.
Assistant Superintendent of Kingsport City Schools Dr. Andy True agrees.
“Those retirees that have had long careers in education, have the experience, the skill level built up over the course of a career. It is certainly a great resource to be able to draw from. We have made efforts this year to increase our substitute pay for retirees to show the value there,” said True.
In Washington County, Tennessee schools, leaders say they are fortunate to be fully staffed with teachers. Leaders attribute it to a big change.
“Over the summer our school board and our new superintendent worked together with our county commission to have a significant pay increase on our pay scale for all of our teachers. I feel that’s really helped us attract new teachers and keep our older teachers here in the system,” said Jarrod Adams, Chief Operations Officer of Washington County Schools.
The need isn’t just for teachers.
All districts we spoke with report they are actually struggling more to hire support staff.
“We could use 4 to 5 more bus drivers, we need food service workers. People who will work in the schools in the cafeterias,” said Adams.
The sentiment was echoed in Kingsport and Johnson City schools.
“In our current economy and what we are working through right now, we are going to need bus drivers and custodial food service, a lot of support positions, but also teachers,” said Barnett.
The University of Tennessee system and TDOE in May 2022 launched a $20 million project called the ‘Grow your Own Center’ with a goal of helping prepare teachers and eliminate the state’s teacher shortage.
The TN Education Job Board on the TDOE’s website works to support districts and students by providing a central location for interested applicants from across the state to apply for jobs available within Tennessee schools.