MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Students soon head back to class in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and the districts are working to make sure there's someone there to teach them.
“It's just a very busy, busy time and we're working very hard and quickly so that when it comes day one all of those positions are full," Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Director of Communications, Chris Cram said.
Cram said he wouldn't call what they're facing a teacher "shortage," but he said this hiring season has proven to be particularly competitive.
An MCPS spokesperson said as of Monday, they have 351 fulltime and 154 part-time open teacher positions. Cram said their biggest need is for special education teachers.
He also said they're in the process of hiring about 70 new educators.
Cram said it's a challenge each year to fill positions, adding that 1,153 teachers resigned last year, and 775 did so the year before.
"We've had teachers come before a Board of Education, speak through their employee union and say, it is so tough, I got to do something else. There's so much anxiety, it's teaching in a school when we're in a pandemic is very stressful, no doubt about it," Cram said. "[But] we still have thousands that are dedicated and continuing to do the profession. People change their career, whether it's teaching or anything else, for a variety of reasons, personal reasons, retirement, family move financial reasons. And we're not immune to that."
Some are returning to an unwelcome change, though, according to the Montgomery County Education Association.
President Jennifer Martin said that more and more teachers are being involuntarily reassigned to different schools to fill the gaps.
"People are still being notified. The system told us yesterday that it's really only a very small number from one school Sherwood High School, but we are hearing from our members who are telling us it’s happening elsewhere," Martin said.
Martin said the late notice is not only a contract violation, it impacts teachers’ professional and personal time.
"Childcare is a major issue," she said. "The fact that our our county is geographically gigantic, so your commute can radically shift depending on where you’re being reassigned."
A school spokesperson insists the reassignments are a normal process that abides by the contract, in a statement saying “each year beginning in about March, hundreds of teachers are typically identified for transfer…This process typically ends in July. This year a very few positions were identified for transfers after that July date.”
"It has been an incredibly grueling several years. COVID made existing problems even worse. We’ve been short staffed every year in recent memory by hundreds of positions," Martin said. "And so this year is particularly bad in that there are over 500 unfilled teaching positions currently in MCPS. What happens every year is a miracle. It’s a miracle that teachers make happen."
Meanwhile in Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools said, they, too are feeling the pinch.
The new superintendent, Dr. Michelle Reid, put out a letter last week, saying "While our community is grappling with an educator shortage we, here in FCPS, have plans in place to address the remaining vacancies. These plans are student-centered and designed to meet the needs of all our students."
Dr. Reid said that 97% of positions are filled, and they are actively working to hire the rest.
Alexandria City Public Schools said they have about 50 full-time teacher openings, but that hiring is ahead of where it was last year.
In the District, a spokesperson for DC Public Schools sent the following statement:
"DC Public Schools’ core strategy for ensuring the best education for our students begins and ends with the recruitment, selection, development, and retention of the most talented educators in the country. As a district, we work diligently to ensure our school staff have the tools, development, and resources to be successful and have robust strategies in place to retain our educators. We are also strategically recruiting for the upcoming school year, and hiring of new teachers is ahead of where we were at this time last year."
The spokesperson did not give a specific number of open positions, but said some of the highest need areas are Special Education, ESL, Health & Physical Education, Math, Science, Visual & Performing Arts, and Elementary.
They said they're offering $2,500 hiring bonuses for people who accept positions in those content areas.
If schools don't fill their open positions by the first day of school, Cram said MCPS in particular will get creative, and it could involve administrators filling teaching positions temporarily.
MCPS is hosting a virtual hiring information session Tuesday, August 2 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can join the session here: https://meet.google.com/heu-kytv-fpq.
The district is also hosting an in-person job fair on August 10 at Gaithersburg High School from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Also, MCPS offers a daily open house at the Office of Human Resources and Development in Rockville from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The district lists the following as critical areas:
- Special Education Paraeducators
- Bus Operators (Drivers) and Bus Attendants (Special Education)
- Security Assistants
- Cafeteria Workers
- Building Service Workers