Chicago Public Schools

Chicago-area schools tackle staffing shortages as return to classroom nears

School districts nationwide are returning to the classroom without enough teachers to serve its students. Chicago is dealing with this problem, too.

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It’s a new era in education, one where finding and retaining qualified teachers is a challenge, and numerous school districts are struggling in the Chicago area.

“In the last few years things have really shifted, people are leaving for lots of different reasons, and we’ve seen these numbers spike, the number of vacancies,” said Becky Vevea, the Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Chicago.

Vevea reports on educational issues in Chicago, and a teacher shortage is not new information. However, the problem has increased because of the after-effects of the COVID pandemic.

“Teachers do a very difficult job for not a lot of pay, so it is a hard thing to recruit for,” Vevea explained.

School safety, post-pandemic burn out, and stagnant salaries are among the biggest factors for educators exiting the profession, according to researchers.

Some of the most impacted subjects are those requiring extra education, like science, math, special education and bilingual classrooms.

Dr. Mark Klaisner is the Executive Director of West 40 Intermediate Service Center, a state-funded organization partnering with 38 districts and 3 co-ops in Western Cook County. He said the teacher shortage is concerning ,and educators have to get creative to fill slots.

“All the more creative you become, you worry about diluting the quality,” he explained. “You can’t just pull people off the street and expect them to be an expert.”

There are few strategies being considered to grow the field, according to Klaisner and other experts. One is starting to encourage middle school students to consider a career in education, in hopes of growing the next decade of teachers now.

Klaisner offers another example.

“For instance, when we were in college and you took a freshman class you could be in an auditorium with 100 students,” he said. “We don’t typically do that in high school, but that would require fewer teachers.”

Chicago Public Schools is also feeling the pressure to fill its staffing gaps. Its Chief Talent Officer, Ben Felton, said CPS is taking a proactive approach.

“It’s certainly a challenging time, there are nationwide teaching shortages, but we think we’ve adopted some innovative approaches that have positioned CPS to weather that storm pretty well,” Felton said. “Instead of being subjected to the supply our colleges are giving us, we’re being proactive in developing our own teachers, and a lot of those people have deep connections to CPS schools and communities.”

Through its teacher residency program, this year 230 adults are embedded in a CPS classroom, getting paid to shadow a current full-time teacher. During the evenings and weekends, that adult earns their degree or certification needed to teach full time. The following school year, CPS plans to promote those in its residency program. 

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