WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Teacher Shortage Felt in Western Illinois

Sep 5, 2017

Many students and teachers across Illinois are settling into their new routines as the school year gets underway. But some classrooms remain in flux due to a shortage of teachers.

At the start of the school year, there were still nearly 50 job postings online for teaching positions throughout McDonough, Hancock, Fulton, and Schuyler Counties.

Regional Superintendent of Schools John Meixner said the problem was compounded a few years ago when Illinois switched from a certification process to a teacher licensing format. He said that significantly raised the standards to become a teacher. “People that we get as teachers are fabulously trained right now. They really are. The higher education institutions are putting out some great candidates,” Meixner said.

But Meixner said there hasn’t been the same level of investment on the backend, which means teaching positions in western Illinois continue to go unfilled.

“When these college students graduate and become a teacher they are up to their eyeballs in debt and they’re teaching in a rural location out here making less than $30,000 a year. It’s not appealing. You wonder if you are going to have health insurance benefits, and you wonder if the retirement plan you have is that secure, and you question if the position you were hired for will even be there in a year or two because of the defunding of education that we have,” Meixner said.

Meixner stressed that the shortage of teachers is not a problem specific to western Illinois. He said the shortage can be felt throughout the region, state, and across the nation. But he did say that rural areas tend to be “the canary in the cave.”

“What my colleges are telling me up in the collar counties instead of 200 applicants for a position, they may only have fifty,” Meixner said. “Whereas down here, instead of 10 applicants, we are having zero. There’s a big difference there between not having any applicants and just have a lower pool. The rural area, we are noticing is a greater shortage; it’s hitting us sooner and much harder than it is in the suburban areas,”

He said those positions most in need of teachers include special education, foreign language, math, and drivers education instructors.

Meixner said many districts have turned to technology for help in dealing with the shortage. He said his Regional Office of Education first developed online classes predominately for credit recovery for those students who were a couple credits short of graduating or moving up to the next grade level.

But he said now entire classes are enrolling in the program. “It’s become that they can’t find a Spanish teacher so they are having to have all their students (who) signed up for Spanish take the online class,” Meixner said.

He said its always preferred to have teachers and students together in a classroom. But he sadi districts are required to provide certain courses regardless of whether they can find a teacher. “They have to offer basic science, math, English.  And if they can’t find the teachers, [online] is the best option they have,” Meixner.

He said the other option is to rely on substitute teachers, at least on a temporary basis. Last year, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools  published a study detailing the shortage of substitutes across Illinois.

Meixner said a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to be eligible to substitute teach. He said school districts have raised the daily pay rate to around $100 for substitute teachers.