Schools in Gainesville and Hall County are heading into the new school year with more teacher vacancies than usual, and while the shortages aren’t dire, officials said, they could contribute to larger class sizes and heavier teacher workloads until the empty slots are filled.
“I had 19 kids last year, and this year I think they've told us we could have up to 23 or 24 kids,” said Emily Hallman, a second-grade teacher at New Holland Knowledge Academy, part of Gainesville City Schools.
“We were going to have four teachers on our team this year, and now we're only going to have three,” she added. “I don't know if that's because of the teacher shortage necessarily, but that's definitely a thing that we're dealing with.”
Gainesville City Schools, which will open its doors Tuesday, Aug. 9, is short about four teachers, according to Deputy Superintendent Priscilla Collins. Two of the vacancies are special education positions. The system has about 600 teachers.
And while those numbers may not sound concerning, city school officials say they’ve had more vacancies than usual as the new school year nears.
“That’s the worst it’s been in my five years here,” Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said July 27, when the school system was short seven teachers. “That’s the most we’ve had this late in the game.”
Collins added, “We definitely have not seen the number of SPED teacher shortages that we've seen this year.”
Hall County Schools is still short about 8-10 teachers before the school year begins Friday, Aug. 5. The school system has about 1,900 teachers.
“We're a little bit behind normal,” said Brad Brown, assistant superintendent of human resources for Hall County Schools. “Most of the time by now we're looking at a handful, which would be less than five.”
“It’s been very transient, more so than I can ever remember,” Brown added, saying more teachers are deciding not to renew their contracts.
And teacher shortages aren’t just local. The trend holds nationally as well.
According to a survey by the National Education Association, 55% of educators considered leaving the profession earlier than they had planned, up from 37% last August.
Many already have left. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show more than one-third of teachers have left the profession in the past couple years. In 2020, the teacher workforce stood at around 10.6 million. Now, it’s closer to 10 million.
“Those shortages are typically felt most in lower-income, higher poverty, and higher minority school districts,” said David Mustard, an education economics professor at University of Georgia. “So most of what I see in Gainesville is similar to what is going on nationwide in cities that look like Gainesville.”
What is driving the teacher shortage?
“There's a lot of expectations and a lot of demands on teachers that people don't realize, and there’s not enough pay to be honest,” Hallman said.
“I think a lot of them are chasing the money,” Brown said. “They can make more so they go to other places. … It's a combination of things. But, obviously, for most people, money factors into it.”
At the last Hall County school board meeting, July 25, Superintendent Will Schofield thanked the board for increasing pay, noting that their teachers have the option of “crossing a district line and making $10,000 tomorrow more per year than you make in Hall County.”
“All I can tell you is that there are very few Hall County school district employees driving Porsches and going to the Riviera for their vacations,” he said. “I wish we could afford to pay you what some of our metro neighbors do.”
Likewise, Williams said, “Sometimes when you see hourly rates going up in other places, or more opportunities to work remotely, people are entertaining those ideas now, where three years ago, they were not as abundant as they are now.”
Starting teacher pay in various public school districts:
Brown has noted, though, that even districts paying higher teacher salaries are still struggling to fill a substantial number of vacancies.
The Times has reached out to some of those districts for vacancy numbers. Gwinnett County Public Schools spokesman Bernard Watson said they have 189 vacancies, compared with 30 vacancies last year. He noted, though, that they added 142 teaching positions. “So if you take away the 142 new teaching positions,” he said, “GCPS is right in line with last year in terms of the number of vacancies at the start of the school year.”
Likewise, Williams said part of the reason for the shortage is that they’re hiring more employees than ever. The school system recently opened a second middle school campus, and he said they’re trying to reduce class sizes, especially in special education.
“Class sizes probably won't be affected too greatly,” he said. “But it may require us to put teachers on what's called extended day where we give them extra pay to cover a different class.”
Teachers who work an extended day typically use their planning period to teach a class where they’re needed.
He added that if enrollment in a grade level is lower than they anticipated, they can combine classes. “While it's not ideal, it is something that we do periodically,” he said.
What are schools doing to hire more teachers?
In February, both Gainesville and Hall County partnered with the University of North Georgia in an effort to recruit more teachers as part of an advanced student-teacher residency program. The program selects top-performing UNG teaching students, who begin teaching during their senior year in college. They are paid half a starting teacher’s salary, and the hope is that once they graduate, they will continue teaching at the school.
Ansley Reed, a senior at UNG who is part of the residency program, will start teaching at New Holland Knowledge Academy when school starts. She said she is one of eight students chosen among 300 or so students who applied.
She said UNG’s program is rigorous but wishes she had a bit more time to prepare.
“I didn’t even know I was accepted (in the program) until the end of May, so I think maybe in other years to come, they would probably prepare us a little bit more.”