A nationwide teacher shortage is sending Tooele County School District officials across the country looking for qualified teachers.
It’s a supply shortage, according to Terry Christensen, the school district’s human resources director.
Colleges of Education in Utah are reporting a drop-off of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs by as much as two thirds, he said.
“With students changing majors, the number of students graduating with education degrees had dropped even further,” Christensen added.
There are a handful of large school districts along the Wasatch Front that have more openings for new teachers than the number of students that graduate with education degrees from Utah colleges, according to Christensen.
Christensen works with Utah State University Tooele Regional Campus to place their 15 to 20 education graduates in Tooele County schools.
However, the school district needs 100 new teachers by the time school starts on Aug. 22, according to Christensen.
To fill those positions, the school district has created a recruitment and retention team of human resources personnel, district administrators and principals.
Members of the team are traveling to Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania looking for teachers.
“These states have a surplus of education graduates,” Christensen said.
Visiting career fairs at colleges in those states, members of the school district’s recruitment team conduct initial interviews and may set up interviews by telephone or Skype with principals back in Tooele.
“We may offer them a job before they leave the career fair,” Christensen said. “Hiring is very competitive. If we don’t do that, we may lose them.”
Selling Tooele County to prospective educators from out of state isn’t a big problem, according to Christensen.
“I tell them about recreational activities in the county and available with a short drive to the Wasatch Front,” he said. “I tell them we have a small-town atmosphere, which is a great place to raise a family, but Salt Lake City, with all the attractions of a large town, is only 30 minutes away.
“Our new schools, availability of technology in classrooms, the fact that we are a growing district, and the availability of housing, all make us attractive to young new teachers,” Christensen said.
The school district has already hired around 60 of the 100 new teachers needed for the 2016-17 school year. Twenty-four positions are still open. Based on past experience, Christensen expects to need around 20 more new teachers by the time school starts.
“There’s always a few teachers that decide at the last minute they don’t want to come back to teaching, or they get recruited by another school district,” he said.
Of the 24 current openings, some may be challenging to fill because of their geographic nature or subject matter, according to Christensen.
The district has several openings for teaching positions in Wendover, Ibapah and Dugway. Their size and distance from a major population center makes those positions hard to fill, Christensen said.
For those communities, Christensen tries to target new teachers who are from small, rural communities.
“If we can find a teacher that’s used to a three-hour drive to the nearest Wal-Mart, living in Wendover isn’t a problem,” he said.
The school district boosted its bonus pay for Wendover teachers to $5,000 this year in an attempt to compete with Nevada schools, which were offering a one-time $10,000 signing bonus for Wendover teachers.
Some of the other teaching positions that remain open are for math, science and severe special education teachers.
Teachers certified to teach in these fields are in short supply, Christensen said.
His goal is to have a qualified teacher hired for every classroom by the first day of school.