Illinois can do more to solve the teacher shortage problem

With more than 5,000 open teaching positions statewide, it is critical that we focus on teacher retention and systemic changes to support our educators and students.

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With more than 5,000 unfilled teaching positions statewide, it is critical that we focus on teacher retention and systemic changes to support our educators and students, writes Anajah Roberts, executive director, Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana.

With more than 5,000 unfilled teaching positions statewide, it is critical that we focus on teacher retention and systemic changes to support our educators and students, writes Anajah Roberts, executive director, Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana.

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It is no secret that Illinois schools are facing teacher shortages due to issues exacerbated by the pandemic: a frustrating lack of resources, increased academic and social emotional needs of students and extremely high levels of burnout and other mental health challenges among educators.

Our civic leaders are doing the best they can to support teachers, from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed budget investment of half a billion dollars for education to the $4 million grant from the state board to support teachers seeking a bilingual educator endorsement.

Yet teachers are still not getting the support they need and deserve. From our alumni network at Teach For America, including nearly 80 principals and more than 560 teachers, we are hearing that our principals are stressed about filling vacancies because the education system does not have the support to make education a sustainable career.

With more than 5,000 unfilled teaching positions statewide, it is critical that we focus on teacher retention and systemic changes to support our educators and students.

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Retaining teachers starts during recruitment and training, well before their first day in the classroom. Early career teachers need coaching and professional development to develop the knowledge, skills and mindset to be effective and engage with students, and also to create a facilitative relationship that allows school leaders to respond to their needs and provide support for career and mental health challenges that may arise.

Teacher shortages are not new for many of our partner schools in low-income communities. For decades, Teach For America has seen the positive impact of providing our early teachers with support and growth opportunities from their first days in the classroom through their careers. Many of the leading education advocates and experts in our community are Teach For America alumni. If we want to see this longevity in educators, then a high level of holistic support must become the industry standard.

Investment cannot stop at direct support — it must extend to the conditions teachers need to thrive. This includes offering everything from leadership programs for teachers of color seeking to become principals, to funding preschool programs so students are ready for kindergarten. Other services for teachers and students, such as mental and physical health care, are critical to creating thriving schools.

We cannot support our students if we are not also supporting our teachers. The solutions are out there. If we have any hope of filling the thousands of open positions in Illinois, we must create a viable career path that shows teachers they are supported and valued. Our future teachers are watching.

Anajah Roberts, executive director, Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana.

Come together to fight poverty

Thank you, Ben Jealous, for your honest, accurate column that reveals what is significant and productive. The need for the working poor, be they white, Black or Brown to come together to solve a common problem is apparent in your argument.

Roberta Motanky, Rogers Park

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