Department of Ed discusses teacher shortage

DES MOINES — The State Board of Education discussed the shortage of teachers Wednesday during its meeting in Des Moines.

Some districts have had to cancel classes due to a lack of teachers or substitutes, and some are looking at extending the Thanksgiving break due to shortages. Department of Education director Ann Lebo mentioned the issue while updating the board on her webinar with school superintendents.

“I think most people would not be surprised that the primary topic this month was on staff shortages, and some of the conversations around what some of the solutions might be available there,” Lebo says. She says the Ed Department is gathering information on the issue.

“What is the experience of shortages, and what are some potential solutions. That is being led a lot by a teacher shortage task force group,” she says. The task force group is expected to report to the Board of Ed in December.

Board member Mike May of Spirit Lake says it is an issue that has to be addressed as soon as possible. “We’re at critical mass now — we’re not talking about just a small problem — we are talking about a critical problem. And my question for you, what are we doing about it? How can we contribute to solving that issue?,” May asked. “When we are closing schools now in Iowa because we don’t have enough teachers — we know that some of that is COVID-related — but it is also because of the huge drop in the number of kids who are actually choosing education as a major.”

Lebo says they have to develop solutions on two fronts. “There’s kind of two pieces of it too — it’s the recruitment and retention. So when we talk about some of the recommendations that might come from the teacher shortage workgroup we are focused more on maybe the recruitment and pathways,” according to Lebo. “But then it’s the retention aspect as well and what sort of big ideas do we have that might change the narrative a little bit in terms of the profession, what that looks like and what the deeds are. So, we look forward to continuing to engage in that conversation.”

Lebo says the teacher shortage is also part of the larger labor shortage in the state of Iowa and how to prepare students to fill the shortages.