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Report: State's Teacher Shortage Worsens

mark Jontry at a mic
Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools President Mark Jontry is also the regional superintendent for McLean, Logan, Livingston, and DeWitt counties.

The state needs to rethink professional development for teachers and make it even easier to become a sub if it wants to reverse a worsening educator shortage, according to a new report.

A 2018 survey found 41 percent of central Illinois school districts have a “serious problem” with teacher shortages, up from 30 percent a year ago, according to the report from the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS). More districts are receiving fewer applicants for open jobs, and districts have had to cancel 225 courses as a result, the report found.

The greatest need in central Illinois includes school social workers, school psychologists, and special education teachers, said IARSS President Mark Jontry, also the regional superintendent for McLean, Logan, Livingston, and DeWitt counties. Around 49 percent of school psychologist positions statewide were unfilled or held by an unqualified professional in 2018, the report found.

“When you factor in all the mental health issues and concerns our districts are dealing with, they’re really wanting to adequately staff those positions,” Jontry said. “Unit 5, for example, added another six or seven full-time positions this year. And in a lot of cases, they had to hire those people from other districts or special education cooperatives in our area. So it’s just a trickle-down effect, in that some of those other districts will end up going without.” 

There are myriad reasons for the shortage, including a general loss of prestige for the teacher profession, Jontry said. Many of these reasons were documented in GLT’s Skipping School series last fall.

One thing that could help, Jontry said, is for the state to make the professional development required for licensure renewal more purposeful. Generally, teachers now have to accrue upwards of 120 hours of professional development every five years, or 24 hours a year, he said. But there aren’t a lot of parameters around those requirements, he said.

Teachers would benefit from more focused plans of study that address their strengths and weaknesses. And more experiences should count as professional development, he said, such as externships in the local business community.

“I’ve heard from a lot of teachers that would welcome that,” Jontry said. “Because in some instances, they’re otherwise just having to take classes or workshops that they’re not necessarily interested in. And they would see that as a little more valuable. The challenge with that is to provide those opportunities and having them count (as creditable experiences).”

Meanwhile, Illinois also has a shortage of substitute teachers. In central Illinois 58 percent of districts say it’s a “serious problem,” up from 52 percent a year ago. To help address that shortage, Unit 5 and District 87 in January both approved a pay increase for subs.

Another change that’s helped came from the General Assembly, which created a new short-term substitute license. Instead of a bachelor’s degree, anyone with an associate’s degree or 60 hours of coursework is eligible.

“That has significantly opened up the pool of individuals that can come and sub in our buildings,” Jontry said.

IARSS wants to see more. It’s lobbying for a substitute-teacher licensing process that’s “less bureaucratic and streamlined, especially for retired educators serving in a district of prior employment.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.