State’s schools must fill 2,000 teaching vacancies

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mississippi school districts are faced with filling about 2,000 teaching vacancies for next school year.

Dewitt Hynes, director of human resources for Rankin County School District, said his district is blessed with abundant candidates.

“I probably have 50 applicants for every job vacancy I have,” Hynes said. “When I go to (job fairs) it’s like being the head football coach at Alabama,” Hynes said. He attributes that to the district’s good reputation and a low crime rate.

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If recruiting was that easy for every district, the Mississippi Teacher Center, created to focus on teacher recruitment and retention, wouldn’t have to worry about the state’s teacher shortage.

Despite about 2,000 vacancies, MTC director Cecily McNair said Mississippi’s schools of higher education only graduate about 1,400 education majors each year. Of those, about 1,100 get certified to teach, and only about 900 of those show up in the classroom.

Within five years, 50 percent of those 900 leave the classroom.

McNair said reasons for leaving vary — moving out of state, changing professions — but the bottom line is that half of those who start in classrooms don’t stick around. It’s a trend nationwide, not just in Mississippi, she said.

“Our demand will exceed our supply,” McNair said.

When that loss factor is paired with the fact that about 6,000 teachers are eligible to retire in any given year, the need to attract new teachers from other academic majors and careers becomes more apparent.

Mississippi’s teacher shortage is two-fold, based on both subject-specific shortages as well as a district’s geographic location.

Districts all over the state have more trouble filling teaching jobs in special education, math, science and foreign languages than they do other subjects. Hynes said his district is always on the lookout for chemistry and physics teachers because he said schools of higher education are simply not graduating enough of them.

Hinds County School District Superintendent Stephen Handley said even though his district already has filled most of its positions for next year, he, too, is always on the lookout for subject shortage teachers. He said a chemistry teacher is much more difficult to find than a third-grade teacher.

Geographically speaking, 47 out of 152 school districts face challenges filling vacancies because of their rural locations. Just about every region of the state has a critical teacher shortage area — those that have been recognized by the state as having more difficulty than others in filling teaching positions. The state offers incentives to teachers who agree to work in critical need schools or subject areas.