Teacher shortages looming?

By Todd DeFeo

Early signs of a teacher shortage have crept into the local school systems which have an ever expanding student base.

"We did open the school year with some positions unfilled," said Charles White, the spokesperson for Clayton County Schools.

School systems statewide may need to hire as many as 14,000 teachers over the next decade to avoid a teacher shortage.

"We need to double the number of new teachers," said associate vice chancellor Jan Kettlewell, who gave Regents a preview of the plan to double teaching degrees awarded by 2010.

In Henry County, school officials say they are keeping pace and hiring teachers.

"We don't consider there to be a teacher shortage," Henry County Schools spokeswoman Cindy Foster said.

There were 325 new teachers in Henry County Schools for the 2004-05 school year, Foster said. About 100 of those were first-year teachers.

It is too early to project how many teachers the school system will need to hire for the 2005-06 school year, Foster said. Before the end of this school year, officials will make preliminary projections – taking into account how many teachers will return and enrollment – about how many teachers need to be hired.

The chancellor's comments indicate a growing feeder problem for teachers coming out of Georgia colleges and universities.

She said the main problems are that too few teachers come out of Georgia colleges, and that too many teachers leave because of poor working conditions.

But White said Clayton's shortage – about 40 opens teaching slots – is not directly attributable to a feeder problem.

Instead, he said the school system has struggled to hire the number of special education teachers it needs.

To remedy the problem, White said the system is expanding its recruitment process to include areas like New York and Ohio from which it hasn't drawn in the past.

Clayton County also must re-develop its relationship with colleges, he said.

The Georgia Department of Education annually identifies teacher shortage areas. Six of 19 areas identified for the 2004-2005 school year affected students with disabilities.

This summer, Henry County Schools held a job fair specifically for hiring special education teachers and paraprofessionals

"Special education is always a need, but we don't have any unfilled positions at this point," Foster said.

Currently, there are over 2,500 teachers in Henry County Schools. After the school year begins, officials often "shuffle" teachers around, depending on enrollment at particular schools.

"It doesn't disrupt one class, it disrupts all of them," Foster said.

To fill teacher vacancies, school systems often will hire uncertified teachers and some states have been adopted programs allowing uncertified teachers in the classroom. Alternative and "emergency" teacher licenses are available in many states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program was designed to allow professionals with a bachelor's degree or higher to teach, without having to return to college to complete teacher education requirements. Teachers with a provisional license and who are taking additional education courses can teach under the supervision of a licensed teacher for two years.

News Daily staff writer Justin Boron and The Associated Press contributed to this story.