Special Education teacher shortage likely to get worse before it gets better
The significant teacher shortages that have long existed -- particularly in the area of special education -- were problematic before the COVID-19 pandemic and unfortunately, the virus has only served to make these challenges even worse.
A 2014-15 educator supply-and-demand survey revealed that all 10 special education subgroups were listed as severe shortage areas. Because we know special education teachers are 2.5 times more likely to leave the profession, it makes recruiting and retaining special education teachers even more challenging.
And where we see the largest discrepancy with teacher shortages -- particularly special education positions -- is in high-poverty urban districts and remote rural schools. According to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education & Related Services (NCPSSERS), this trend disproportionately affects high-poverty school districts, with 90 percent of districts reporting problems finding qualified personnel.
A long-term solution for the special education teacher shortage is needed because traditional methods are not working. School districts need to be forward thinking and begin to develop relationships with future educators before they enter the job market. They also must find non-traditional ways to promote and market their school districts and the opportunities they provide.
And now is a prime opportunity for school districts to begin the process of rethinking their approach to hiring. The pandemic is forcing many people to consider leaving more metropolitan areas for more rural communities. While these rural school districts may not offer the same kind of pay scale as suburban school districts, the cost of living and the lack of congestion makes school districts in more rural areas much more attractive than perhaps they used to be. Plus, life in rural communities means people are more spread out, which is an advantage when considering the possibility of future viruses as contagious as COVID-19.
Additionally, the issue of racial equality is front and center now. Education students looking to make a real difference when it comes to social justice issues and racial equality should be seriously considering the opportunities to teach in high-poverty urban school districts. The opportunities abound in these districts. The key is matching future teachers with these opportunities.
In short, school districts must be more nimble in the hiring process. School districts need to maintain an up-to-date, information-filled website that is easy to navigate. They also should make sure they have a strong social media presence, and they ought to find ways to use social media as a recruiting tool.
School districts should also engage with universities to connect with future educators. It's human nature for people to want to work in a place where they are wanted and appreciated. Life is more than a paycheck and benefits, and today's students are looking for more. They want to work at a place that appreciates them and their talents and where they can make a difference.
While the special education teacher shortage is not disappearing anytime soon, school districts can better fill their open positions with top-notch talent if they are willing to take a more modern approach to hiring and use the technology available to make the right connections with special education job seekers. If used properly, technology can be a great way for school districts to make their recruitment more personal, more relevant and most importantly more successful.
• John Consalvi is a speech pathologist and clinician with experience helping children in Guatemala, the Chicago Public Schools and nationwide. He is founder and CEO of SPEDxchange, an online platform and community of special educators who help school districts source, engage and hire special education staff.