Teacher shortage manifests in Woodstock specialty hiring

Will graduating seniors with a degree in education please raise your hand?

Hold it high, future educators. You are part of a shrinking pool of teachers coming out of Illinois colleges and universities, according to state-wide data.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education reports that enrollment in education programs at Illinois' colleges and universities fell significantly on the heels of the recession. From 2009 to 2012, the most recent data available, enrollment in education programs fell 37 percent.

But there's some news that could be troubling for those with their hands up. Even with the drops in enrollment, Illinois is far from a teacher shortage, experts say. There are far more applicants than there are job openings.

Some school districts reported difficulty filling certain specialty positions. Take District 200's Chinese language program. Woodstock High School Principal Brian McAdow said that if there's a job opening, there might be only a handful of qualified applicants. But consider other traditional programs, such as English or social studies, and the teacher pool get much larger.

"We might have 250 applicants," McAdow said.

"I think there's certain areas, through certifications and actual content, where it's more difficult to find teachers, and your pool of applicants is going to be smaller," McAdow said.

Teacher openings in science, mathematics and advanced placement classes that require additional certifications are harder to fill, he said.

Woodstock's ever-popular dual-language programs can sometimes draw ire, McAdow said, because the district has recruited teachers from Spain. But as the principal explained, these specialty teachers need not only be fluent in Spanish, they have to be certified to teach their subject in the language.

"For dual-language, you have to provide content in Spanish and in English," McAdow said. "In high school, dual-language is 100 percent Spanish.

"We're always looking for qualified dual-language teachers," he continued. "When we can't find them here, that's when we start looking at other areas."

According to a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the problem is not finding highly qualified teachers to fill jobs, it's retaining them.

Turnover is especially high for first-year teachers. The Alliance found that 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession after five years, according to their research.

There's a variety of reasons for the attrition, experts say.

Some say it's the political landscape. Teaching was once a highly regarded profession, but with Illinois in dire straits with its pension obligations, some of the blame for which has fallen on teachers and their powerful unions.

Other experts called out education's obsession with standardized testing for turning some away from the profession.

The Alliance cited a number of reasons, including adequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, low salaries and a lack of collective teacher influence over schoolwide decisions.

But there are still those who look at teaching as more of a calling than a career. Those like Barb Truels, who is mentoring future teachers at Northern Illinois University's education program.

"It's a challenging position, its a challenging career, but it's really rewarding," said Truels, a clinical supervisor at Northern Illinois University's special education program. "I've been doing it 40 years."

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