A national teacher shortage, as reported Aug. 19 on National Public Radio
, is hitting close to home. Humboldt County is among many regions struggling to attract qualified candidates to its schools and, as students head back to the classroom, some administrators are wondering who will be there to greet them.
“The districts locally are going to be starting with a deficit” said Debra Kingshill, who heads the personnel department at the Humboldt County Office of Education. Kingshill advertises for teaching positions on the HCOE’s website. She said that they have gotten more “creative” about finding candidates, advertising nationally as well as locally. “We’re trying to cast the net a little bit further. There are some workarounds, some different credentialing options.”
The website is currently displaying seven permanent teaching positions, five substitute teaching positions, and many ancillary jobs such as aides and bus drivers, for a total of 125 jobs in all. Substitute teachers are also in high demand, but their ability to compensate for the lack of teachers may be limited.
“We’re having trouble finding qualified subs,” says Garry Eagles, superintendent of schools, adding that substitute teachers cannot teach the entire year.
Eureka City Schools and the McKinleyville Unified School District advertise separately from the HCOE, and are seeking a total of 11 credentialed positions as well as substitutes.
Both Eagles and Kingshill attribute part of the problem to an overall dearth of jobs in Humboldt County. While there may be ample jobs for credentialed educators, their spouses may not be willing to relocate to an area with so few employment opportunities.
“The applicant pool is very thin for the jobs that are here,” said Eagles. “We have some specialty assignments in education, school psychiatrists for example, where we can’t find any applicants. I used to get 12 to 15 applicants for superintendent positions, now I get three, four, five. Not all are necessarily qualified either.”
Eagles said that, statewide, fewer people are going into education as a career. The California State University system, traditionally the largest supplier of education professionals, has seen large drops in students studying education due to tuition increases and the effects of the recession. Eagles says that the lack of stability and widespread layoffs during the recession caused many people to choose more lucrative fields of study. The recession has also had an unintended impact on teacher numbers. Many educators who opted not to retire as planned during lean years are now leaving the classroom, and there are few candidates left to take their place.
Still, said Eagles, things might be picking up. When he spoke to the Journal on Wednesday he had just finished presenting to a “very promising” class of future special education teachers at Humboldt State University. Their numbers are up slightly from last year, he reported, a possible sign of good things to come.
“Educators are always optimistic,” he said.