Educate Oklahoma: Teacher Shortage

Thursday, August 25th 2016, 4:07 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Oklahoma is facing a teacher shortage, and that has districts competing for staff.

It's especially tough for the state's largest districts like Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where it takes dozens of hires just to keep up with attrition. That's led one of those districts to try a new approach - to hire faster and to hire early. 

Some of the teacher candidates could soon be in front of a classroom in Tulsa. 
The district created a hiring system that can take a candidate from first interview to final offer - in a matter of hours.

Katie Haile moved to Tulsa from Nicoma Park, where she taught for two years.  

"It did make a little bit of difference knowing I could leave here today and know I have a job," said teacher candidate Katie Haile. "That's a big relief instead of having to wait for schools to call you and then they don't call you."
She looked for teacher openings but said smaller districts didn't have many, due to some who've downsized staff to match their budgets.

"I guess what draws me to them is that there's more opportunity here than with a smaller district, because with the budget cuts, many of them just aren't hiring," Haile said. 

Tulsa Public Schools didn't have as many openings as usual but didn't have as many applicants either.

"So even though the number of applications is down, the number of vacancies is also down - that's our silver lining," said Bradley Eddy, Tulsa Public Schools Director of Certified Talent. 

In Oklahoma City, the district adapted to the chronic shortage with constant hiring.

"It's having a huge impact; it's why we're always out there searching," said Mark Myers, Oklahoma City Public Schools Director of Media Relations.

Myers says the district competes with suburban school districts on salaries, but still has teachers leave to work out of state.

The school districts are especially short in a few areas.

Myers said there is a need for special education, math and science teachers.  

"These are very difficult categories to fill when it comes to teachers so those are areas that we're always recruiting for," Myers said. 

Eddy said the turnover of teachers forced the district to create a new model for hiring - with faster paperwork and instant interviews to qualify candidates.

Haile went through the expedited process, from introductions to teaching a sample lesson, in a single morning.

There is a chronic shortage of available teachers.  Some blame the pay, or the work, but Eddy said public respect is part of the reason people go into teaching - or decide to do something else.

"Teaching is still a great profession, it's fulfilling and satisfying," he said. "It doesn't always get the same respect from the community that it used to get, but it still fully deserves that and I think that pendulum will swing back."