I-TEAM: Amid U.S. teacher shortage, where do we stand locally?

Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 6:36 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-TEAM finds as many as one in five teachers in Richmond County schools are being hired with an emergency or provisional waiver.

That news may leave parents wondering if these teachers are fully qualified to educate their children.

As the I-TEAM’s Liz Owens found out the national teacher shortage is hitting here at home, and it’s growing.

Through public records requests, we found teacher job openings in Richmond County have increased more than 50 percent since the pandemic. Across the river in Aiken County, we uncovered a 200 percent increase in teachers absent from the classroom.

As another school year begins, another warning flashes about the state of our local classrooms.

“It’s really bad. It’s really bad.” Leelila Strogov is the founder of Atomicmind, a foundation that provides free financial counseling for school scholarships to students from kindergarten and into college.

She says she’s finding across the country the phrase “teacher shortage” isn’t accurate.

“It’s ultimately a misnomer. Teacher shortages implies that there’s literally a shortage of teachers and there aren’t a shortage of teachers. What .. what there is a shortage of is teachers in classrooms. So really, what we have is a recruitment and retention failure.”

Teachers are leaving the profession and alarm bells have been ringing for quite some time.

A University of South Carolina professor recently wrote a book about the decay of the teaching profession finding:

“The national teacher shortage is rooted in the longstanding lack of respect for teachers and their craft, which is reflected by decades of low pay, hyper scrutiny, and poor working conditions. This disrespect to the profession is what is driving teachers away.”

The I-TEAM found the Georgia Professional Standards Commission reported a worrying statistic:

Nearly half of public school teachers surveyed in the peach state leave within the first five years of employment.

That survey was from 2015, seven years ago. And long before the stress of Covid-19.

The I-TEAM obtained public records to compare the start of the recent school year to the one before the pandemic in 2018-2019.

The I-TEAM also found there are more underqualified teachers than ever before in Richmond County Schools.

In 2018, only 10 percent of teachers were hired on emergency or provisional waivers. Just four years later, that number more than doubled to 23 percent, or more than one in five hired on those special waivers this year.

Burke County and Columbia County school districts each had fewer than ten job openings pre and post-pandemic.

“We have to pay teachers more. We also I mean, we’ve seen the research and, you know, as little as $3,000 more would make a difference.” Says Strogov.

The I-TEAM found the average salary for Richmond County is $53,467. In Aiken County, the average salary is $59,921.

The Board of Education in Richmond County is also discussing the pressures teachers are feeling from how far behind kids are due to the pandemic.

“A lot of our students are two and three years behind, especially with the COVID thing and they weren’t in school.” Said Debbie Kelly with Rise before the BOE.

Kelly is in charge of tutoring services and has seen firsthand the pressure COVID has placed on students and teachers.

Scholars in Georgia are also investigating the crisis. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA found too much testing and unrealistic expectations are contributing to teacher burnout.

One elementary school teacher with more than a decade of experience reported “… so many decisions are made regarding what should be happening in a classroom by people who are no longer in a classroom and have been out for a long time, or by people who have never been in a classroom. "

“It’s really quite awful.” Strogov relays. “You know… teachers essentially are saying, I do not want to be in the classroom anymore. I don’t like the way I’m being treated. I don’t like the way I’m being paid. I don’t like the fact that I came into this job to have an impact on children and I am being deprived of that opportunity because I’m being told exactly what tests I need to teach to.”