Iowa’s teacher shortage is impacting our students and teachers

School districts across the country are facing a shortage of teachers and other positions in K-12 education, such as paraeducators, bus drivers, and substitutes. As students head back to school this fall, it’s estimated that the U.S. is short over 300,000 people to fill critically important K-12 education positions. Iowa is no different, with many school districts finding themselves short staff at the start of school this past August. Shortages put more pressure and stress on remaining staff as they are asked to do more which can lead to burnout.

While the last several years have seen a steady decline in the number of teachers available, recent stressors of both the pandemic and what many are identifying as a “culture war” among Americans have made the situation much worse. I can’t recall another time in my professional career when educators have been under so much pressure and scrutiny. One teacher described it as going from “hero to zero,” as educators have now found themselves in the crosshairs of parental and political debates about topics such as masks and diversity. It’s not hard to understand why fewer college students are picking education as their career path.

This is significant not only because it negatively impacts the morale of those who have stayed in the profession but also because it impacts our students. When schools have unfilled vacancies, they may have to combine classes increasing the teacher-to-student ratio. Worse yet, some classes may have to be canceled altogether. All of this equates to fewer opportunities for our students and the potential for less effective teaching. In a state where we have historically had great pride in our education system, we can and must do better.

For those of you who are parents, I’m asking you to consider how you can demonstrate your support for your child’s teachers and local school administrators this year. An encouraging word at parent-teacher conferences or a complimentary email recognizing their efforts can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated. A vast majority of teachers went into teaching to have a positive impact on students. Let them know when they are having that impact, as it reinforces their choice to be in education and energizes them to keep going.

If your situation allows you to volunteer in the classroom or on field trips, let your teachers know that you are available to assist. Better yet, consider applying to work at a local school district. Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) provides “substitute authorization” courses to allow those who hold an associate’s degree or higher or have completed 60 semester hours through a regionally-accredited institution to substitute. Interested in becoming a paraeducator? We offer that training as well. To learn more about either training, which can be done virtually, visit our substitute authorization and paraeducator training page.

Finally, and most importantly, educators need your trust and respect. I believe the majority of them have earned it and continue to do so each and every day. When you do have questions about something happening in your school or child’s classroom, be courageous enough to ask for a meeting to seek more information and discuss your concerns. Most educators I work with are reasonable, approachable, and want nothing more than to partner with you.

Turning a blind eye to our growing shortage of teachers or dismissing it as another state or school district’s problem is only kicking the can down the road until, eventually, we are all affected by the impact. Let’s act now to bring pride back in our educational system and respect for those who chose to do one of the toughest jobs around.

About the writer:

Sam Miller is the Chief Administrator of Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He can be reached at smiller@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 5,000 K-12 educators in 18 counties of north central Iowa to improve outcomes for students. Learn more at www.centralriversaea.org.