Marion County faces a shortage of teachers that is more severe than previous years. This means temporarily filling the open positions with substitute teachers or student teachers.

At the last Board of Education meeting, Marion County Superintendent Randy Farley, as well as other board members, shared information on Marion County’s new strategy to fill the positions — starting on Sept. 4, the school district will move to an online application process, widening the potential pool of applicants by making it easier for qualified individuals to apply. Applicants wouldn’t have to be physically present to fill out the necessary paperwork. While the district has faced open positions in the past, there are fewer applicants than in previous years.

The teacher shortage is not a new problem, and it’s not specific to Marion County. All across the state, school districts are facing a lack of qualified applicants to fill their open positions. Last year, the 2018-2019 school year began with over 700 teaching vacancies all across the state.

This year, that number is about the same. There are many contributing factors — long hours, insufficient pay and fewer college graduates interested in teaching, among them. The pay raise included in the most recent education bill in West Virginia will help us be more competitive with surrounding states, but this problem is not one that is specific to even West Virginia. All across the country, states are struggling to fill their classrooms with teachers.

Perhaps surprising no one, the Economic Policy Institute found that the problem is particularly present in school districts that are underfunded. A lack of money in the district doesn’t just affect salary, but quality of classroom and education materials, technology access — and, in high poverty areas, can even affect the quality of students.

Students from low income households can be unengaged due to a lack of optimism, distracted due to nutritional needs not being met and may even have a lower vocabulary depending on their parents’ education level. What does this mean for Marion County? Probably an uphill battle.

West Virginia already faces high poverty levels — couple that with high obesity levels caused by poor nutrition and the fact that we’re basically ground-zero for the opioid crisis, and you have the prime ingredients for a classroom environment that people who aren’t from here certainly wouldn’t want to relocate to join. Thankfully, there are some short-term solutions.

WVU and Marshall, for example, are making teaching positions more enticing for college students. WVU reduced the number of years it takes to train an elementary school student from five to four. In addition, the WVUteach programs allows students who are studying anything in the STEM field to easily pivot their career options toward a job in the classroom.

Marshall is offering a scholarship from the Mair Foundation, which will provide a maximum of $72,500 over four years for potential STEM teachers.

Unfortunately, these solutions don’t do anything to encourage the state or nation to take teaching a lot more seriously and invest the money that would vastly improve education, and there’s nothing to guarantee that students who take advantage of the university initiatives will remain in West Virginia for the rest of their careers.

While Marion County is certainly doing the best it can with what it has, there will continue to be a teacher shortage here and elsewhere until we all start to take education a lot more seriously.

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