Wave of Teaching Hires Challenges Connecticut’s Job Market

Madison is hiring two new teachers for the fall. East Lyme needs two kindergarten teachers, two second grade teachers, a social worker and six paraeducators. Stonington plans to hire at least 20 teachers, tutors and interventionists. Region 4 and Guilford are hiring permanent substitutes. Old Saybrook is hiring temporary therapists, social workers and psychologists through outside agencies. Norwich schools are hiring 15 specialists, 35 summer school teachers and 14 paraeducators.

But there’s a catch — many of these positions may last just one or two years. 

The federal government has sent a wave of funding to local schools across the country looking to bolster student performance and make up for lessons lost to remote learning, and the result is that teachers and tutors are in high demand and short supply, particularly in math and fields that were already difficult hires.

Already, the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board reports that 1,588 teachers have retired through the system since January 2020, and 831 have filed for retirement for July 2021. And teacher certification programs and the Connecticut Department of Education are attempting to broaden the pool of potential educators who could fill positions for the next two years, but it’s unclear whether these efforts will ensure that there are enough teachers in the state to keep up with the demand. 

Madison Superintendent of Schools Craig Cooke, says his district has already hired two classroom teachers, two reading interventionists and two social workers for next year.

“We anticipated it was going to be difficult,” said Cooke. “I would say we’ve been very fortunate to be able to recruit and hire highly qualified [people].” 

Cooke said that when he spoke with other superintendents, many were expressing concerns that all of the districts are seeking to hire for the same positions. 

For the larger districts, the challenge may be even more daunting. New London alone plans to use the grant money to hire 10 additional subject teachers, five special education teachers, and five teachers to reduce class sizes for one year. The district also plans to hire four preschool teachers and 12 paraeducators for two years. 

But with federal funding set to expire in 2024, every one of these teachers may be out of a job after two or three years unless the schools are willing to absorb the added cost of these positions into the annual budget.

Don Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said he believes that if districts are going to hire new teachers, they should plan to keep them on after the federal grant money runs out. Williams likened the federal dollars to “seed money” or a “down payment.” 

“I think that any district that’s hiring additional teachers, counselors, social workers is making a commitment to the school and to the student body,” said Williams.

Williams said municipalities and the state need to take responsibility for paying those teachers’ salaries after federal funding runs out. 

College and university programs

The State of Connecticut has introduced several programs intended to broaden the pool of eligible substitute teachers, and programs at Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education are coordinating with local districts to place education students in teaching positions. 

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, the associate director of teacher education at Neag, said that education students could meet some of the demand for teachers. Her five-year program partners with 13 districts in the state, and she said that many of these districts hire their graduates.

Dr. Niralee Patel-Lye, who directs Neag’s accelerated teacher certification program, said the department  recently piloted a program that places students in full-time teaching positions. Patel-Lye called it a “year-long interview” that gives schools the opportunity to decide if they want to hire the students for permanent positions. Students in the program are paid by the district from August through January. From January through June, the placement is unpaid, and serves as student teaching. Patel-Lye said the program graduated 69 students this year, and that more than 35 applied for the residency program. 

Sims said that her program graduated about 110 students this year. She said the department is considering ways to give 5th-year students more opportunities to work in classrooms, particularly in the spring semester. 

“They are extremely well-prepared for some of these positions,” she said. 

According to Sims, teachers were grateful to have had “digital natives” to help navigate the new forms of technology that popped up this year. 

Sims said that she has seen greater interest from students in starting work, even as they are finishing up their degrees. She said the university has drafted a policy that would allow students to take part-time positions teaching in what the state identifies as “shortage areas.” 

Peter Yazbak, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said the state is seeing teacher shortages in areas like mathematics, science, world languages and special education. 

Waterbury schools are partnering with UConn to hire 25 student teachers in these difficult-hire subjects over the next two years.They are also partnering with the NextGen Education program at Central Connecticut State University to place students 2-3 days each week to help out in the classrooms. 

Sujata Wycoff, director of communications for Waterbury Public Schools, said the programs allow the district to recruit teachers and adapt to new methods of teaching and learning. 

“The hope is that they learn from the experience, build relationships with our staff and students, and when they are ready to join the teacher workforce that their experience leads them to making Waterbury Public Schools their first choice for employment,” said Wycoff. 

Temporary agencies

Brad Beckner, vice president for the northeast region at Kelly Education Services, a professional recruiting and temporary staffing firm, said that the company had received numerous requests from districts seeking help with summer programs and tutoring, and to hire counselors. 

Beckner said that an executive order by the governor allowing for substitute teachers without a college degree had opened up a new pool of applicants. That order will expire on July 20, but Beckner said his company is hoping that it will be extended. 

Yazbak said that the Department of Education had processed 580 applications to fill shortage areas and 365 applications for long-term substitutes between July of 2020 and June of 2021 — an increase of 27 and 29 percent, compared to last year. Yazbak said the department was expecting that demand to last into the next school year. 

The Department of Education also processed 208 applications for individuals without bachelor’s degrees for positions as short-term substitutes even before the executive order was put in place. Between 360 and 400 people without bachelor’s degrees were hired to work in schools between December of 2020 and June of 2021, according to information provided by Kelly.

Beckner said that while these hires might not have the credentials or life experience of a regular teacher, they brought their own assets to the classroom. 

“We’re actually very excited about how they are performing,” he said. “They are enthused. They are excited in the classroom.”  Beckner said that these substitutes were willing to work five days a week, as opposed to retiree substitutes who might only work two days. 

Beckner said the pandemic has also led to higher wages, amounting to $20 or $30 more a day for a credentialed substitute teacher. 

“If barriers to the classroom continue to come down, and the opportunity for increased wages continue to gain traction, what we’re seeing is an increase in demand, but an increase in supply to meet the demand,” he said. 

Jeffrey Newton, superintendent of schools in East Lyme, took a wait-and-see approach.

“The whole point of this is to try and hit hard with recovery next year,” said Newton in a recent presentation on federal grant funding to the local board of education. “Recovery requires supports that go in place. Whether they stay or go, that’s what we would need to determine.”

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