Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

YWCA Minneapolis generously supports MinnPost’s Education coverage. Learn why.

Twin Cities districts scrambling to find more teachers as school start looms

Como Elementary
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
For each of the state’s three largest districts, the hunt for teacher talent will continue right up to, and likely through, the first day of school.

While students consult back-to-school supply lists and rethink morning routines, school administrators are working hard to ensure they have a full roster of licensed teachers ready to greet students next week, when most begin the new school year. 

Typically, the hiring season for these positions takes place during the spring. But for many districts recruitment efforts for licensed teachers — especially in shortage areas like math, science, special education and world languages — often extend into the summer months.  

For each of the state’s three largest districts — Anoka-Hennepin Schools, St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools — the hunt for teacher talent will continue right up to, and likely through, the first day of school. As of Wednesday, hiring directors from each district said they are still working to fill more than 30 licensed teacher positions.

Other districts in the metro area, and beyond, continue to advertise teacher job openings as well. And, if need be, schools will deploy backup plans that range from expanding class sizes to employing long-term substitute teachers to help bridge critical gaps in staffing. 

The demand for fully licensed long-term substitute teachers this time of year has increased in recent years, says Al Sowers, vice president and practice leader of the Bloomington-based substitute teacher provider Teachers On Call, which partners with districts across Minnesota.

“The two most common reasons are maternity leave and unfilled positions, or vacant teacher roles,” he said. “Our long-term [sub] requests are up about 84 percent at this point in time over last year, so we’re seeing a significant spike in need — nearly double.”

Ahead of the new school year, he says his company has already helped place more than 250 long-term subs in Minnesota schools. Additionally, he’s looking to fill another 67 requests as soon as possible. 

“My advice to school districts would be to continue their progressive recruiting reach and efforts because the demand for qualified teacher talent is not going to lessen.”

Recruiting and troubleshooting

In the St. Paul Public Schools district, school administrators are busy filling teacher vacancies that span grade levels and content areas. Kenyatta McCarty, assistant director of Human Resources for the district, says only a handful of these vacancies are at the elementary level. And if they end up needing to bring on a long-term sub while continuing to search for a permanent classroom teacher, she says school leaders will share that information with parents, along with their plans to fill those spots for the remainder of the school year. 

The vast majority of current teacher vacancies — totaling 39, as of Wednesday — she adds, are at the secondary school level — primarily serving special education students. She and her team are also still looking to place math, science and physical education teachers.

While we attempt to have our positions filled, because of last-minute retirements, resignations, we may never be 100 percent full on day one,” she said. 

Over the course of this summer, these sorts of vacancies placed an added strain on McCarty and her colleagues, who have been working hard to hire qualified teachers. At the start of the month, they had about 150 vacancies to fill, she says. 

Recruitment efforts to fill the remaining 39 vacancies will continue into the school year, with subs for core content areas brought on — with the help of Teachers On Call — to bridge these gaps in staffing. If a long-term sub placement for an unfilled vacancy through this partnership proves to be a good fit, McCarty says the district may look to bring that teacher on full time. 

‘Still cranking out offers’

In Minneapolis, the district’s talent acquisition team has a count of about 48 vacancies for licensed teachers that it’s trying to shrink in the next few days. 

Between today and Saturday, we’re still cranking out offers, bringing in people for on-boarding,” Candra Bennett, director of talent acquisition for the district, said in an interview Wednesday. “We definitely are on this mad push to get as many people who are in our pipelines up to be in front of kids on Tuesday.”

In line with common shortage areas, many of the district’s teaching vacancies are in math, science and special education. There’s also a need for physical education and music teachers — specialties that can be hard to fill when they don’t offer full-time positions, Bennett says. 

While doubling down on recruitment and hiring efforts, Bennett says her team is also working with leadership at high-need sites on short-term solutions to ensure roles are filled on the first day of school. Often, that means pulling teachers on special assignment or district program facilitators — both licensed staff members — away from their teacher and program support duties to teach students instead. They also pull talent from an in-house pool of substitute teachers. 

While the pressure to fill open positions has her and her team, which is currently short-staffed,  working long days and weekends this time of year, Bennett’s outlook on the district’s current teacher vacancy status is largely positive. They may be dealing with 48 vacancies, but that equates to a 99 percent fill rate. 

And in terms of special-education teacher vacancies — historically some of the hardest spots to fill — she says they have the highest fill rate they’ve had in the last five years. 

“That’s a really big feat for us,” she said, attributing success to the district’s new teacher residency program that supports nonlicensed staff in pursuing their special-education teacher licensure, combined with an early contract exception for hiring external candidates in this specialty area. 

Sarah Kriewall
Sarah Kriewall
In the Anoka-Hennepin district, 27 of the district’s 39 teacher vacancies are at the elementary school level. Sarah Kriewall, director of employee services for the district, shared those numbers Wednesday, but expects to see that count go down in the next few days as principals send her updates on last-minute hires. 

The current hiring needs are driven, in part, by enrollment numbers at two new elementary schools that have outpaced earlier enrollment projections, says Kriewall. There’s also the challenge of filling part-time vacancies and finding talent so late in the hiring season to fill last-minute retirements and resignations. 

If these positions remain unfilled, she says she’ll rely on two main backup plans: daily subs — pulled from an in-house substitute teacher pool — and internal adjustments, like increasing special-education teacher caseloads. 

“It’s not uncommon at this time of the year to still have some vacancies,” she said. “Many are interviewing at this time and in that pipeline. Principals work very diligently to get all their hiring done.”

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by David Lundeen on 08/29/2019 - 09:44 am.

    Assessments done by the Minnesota Department of Education show an increasing number of teachers are leaving the profession after 4 years. Additionally, the average amount of classroom experience for teachers today is drastically less than it was twenty years ago.

    Appropriate scrutiny is not provided anywhere by administrators as to why these vacancies exist, and why they are hard to fill. The answer is perfectly obvious. Teachers have been made the scapegoats by every stakeholder, and administrators face no accountability for their role in fostering dysfunctional schools where learning is impossible and behavior is out of control.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/29/2019 - 10:16 am.

    Shocker. Non-stop bashing by the corporate education “reformers” that Minnpost loves so much is discouraging people from becoming and staying as teachers.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 08/29/2019 - 02:30 pm.

      It’s even more discouraging to read who owns these large educational companies. Take Pearson, for example. It’s owned by a large investment firm. From this, I think it’s pretty easy to conclude what their interest in education actually is, as opposed to real stakeholders like communities and families.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 09/02/2019 - 02:25 pm.

      I agree. No doubt some reform is needed, but education like most of social services focuses on the easier stuff instead of systemic changes. They also demand unrealistic goals from line staff and then pay the big bucks to the endless contracted managers or salaried managers that have endless workgroups usually made up of more salaried managers or resume padding community members vs parents and teachers. Add to it more licensing and having to deal with behaviors in schools instead of a better mental health system to help with students with challenging behaviors.

  3. Submitted by Toni Bergner on 08/29/2019 - 11:13 am.

    The teacher shortage seems to run parallel to the recent policy of some districts to not suspend disruptive students. I was an educator for 30+ years and I would not want to teach again in schools because of the lack of support for teachers and the lack of discipline in schools. Educators want to work with cooperative students and parents and teach ……. they do not want to battle with disruptive students and negative parents in order to have a positive, functioning classroom. And, as David Lundeen (above) mentions, ‘teachers have been made the scapegoats by every stakeholder.’ Teachers are now required to do so much more than teach.

  4. Submitted by Jim Smola on 08/29/2019 - 02:41 pm.

    As a retired educator and union leader I would offer the teaching shortage is a result of a variety of factors.

    One is the constant bashing of educators and public education for over three decades. This criticism has deterred prospective educators from entering the profession.

    Another is the low salaries which has made other professions more lucrative especially with the high cost of a college education and the loan burden of graduates.

    The shortages were identified at least a decade ago because of the age of educators in general. The shortage has been masked for years by underfunding from the legislature which resulted in layoffs of probationary and teachers who are early in their careers. These layoffs resulted in younger educators changing careers for a more stable environment and an increase in class sizes which covered up any shortages.

    The shortages will continue until the profession is again recognized as an admirable one to enter with salaries that attract young men and women.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 08/29/2019 - 02:53 pm.

      That won’t happen, because schools are functioning exactly as Republicans want them to function. Continued underfunded schools, and the degradation of the profession is a clear and obvious goal of the right. This allows them to use public schools as a foil to gain public support for vouchers to all sorts of terrible, private schools like religious institutes to benefit a narrow, wealthy minority.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/29/2019 - 05:27 pm.

        Shhh! You’ll give the game away!

      • Submitted by Jim Marshal on 08/29/2019 - 08:38 pm.

        Absolutely. The right is doing the same thing all across the public sector. Demonize public sector employees, starve them of wages and benefits and when quality applicants dry up and performance predictably declines; the right will offer privatization as the solution to a problem that they helped create.

      • Submitted by Sheila Kihne on 08/30/2019 - 08:14 am.

        Nice try. The schools are funded, private schools spend far less per pupil than does Minneapolis Public Schools and most others. Where does all the money go?

        I agree that public school teachers are often scapegoated and administration is over-bloated. Government bureaucrats, administration, and their yes-men school boards keep changing the rules and that would be a difficult environment to teach in….However, they get very nice pension plans for their trouble. Private school teachers make far less and have 401k’s like the rest of us suckers.

        Also, have you ever visited Christo Ray or Ascension Catholic schools in Minneapolis? Give it a try. You’ll see kids succeeding who aren’t wealthy, not even close. More religious schools in areas where kids need extra love and attention would be a wonderful, wonderful thing for education.

        Those horrible “religious” schools that provide morals like love your neighbor and standards like treating your teacher with the utmost respect. Your viewpoint is just plain sad.

        The only good news is that we still have open enrollment and charter schools so that there is at least some choice. If you want more teachers and more excitement about becoming a teacher, then the system needs much, much more freedom. The freedom to teach without constant testing. The freedom to kick a kid out of the classroom if they’re being disruptive. The freedom to work in a school with only 15 kids in a class– but make a little less money and forgo the generous pension. You can’t have that in a government-run system.

        Radical change is needed.

        • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 08/31/2019 - 11:17 am.

          Sheila, you are omitting several signifcant details in your comparison of public and private. First, is class size: private schools have much smaller class sizes. Second, private school students are self-selected, public schools do not have that luxury. And, third, special education. SpEd is enormously expensive and most private schools do not offer those services.

          • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 08/31/2019 - 11:38 am.

            “The freedom to work in a school with only 15 kids in a class– but make a little less money and forgo the generous pension.”

            I should make a correction: you did note class size. But, the economics of this “freedom” do not make teaching in such a situation a viable option for most perspective teachers. It doesn’t seem to be particularly freeing.

          • Submitted by Ed Day on 09/02/2019 - 10:19 am.

            And fourth, special education has been a seriously underfunded federal mandate. When the mandate to provide special education began, I believe, the federal government was going to pay for 40 percent of the costs, but for many years the federal subsidy hovered around 15 percent (about one-third of what was promised).

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/04/2019 - 08:56 am.

          Several studies have shown that many private schools actually under-perform compared to public counterparts. You can brag about private school “efficiency” but only if those schools match or exceed the public school results. This isn’t about consumer satisfaction, it’s about education.

          By the way, over the last decade or so there’s been a rash of Catholic school closing dues to shrinking enrollment and insufficient funding.

  5. Submitted by Lori Smith on 08/29/2019 - 05:28 pm.

    Minnesota’s teacher licensing process is not helping matters either. I know several young teachers that obtained their degrees at Wisconsin schools that are eager to move back home to MN but the license doesn’t transfer and MN is horrible to deal with.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/04/2019 - 09:10 am.

      Lori, were none of these “several” young teachers aware of the MN requirements when decided to get their degrees in WI instead of MN?

      Teacher shortages are nationwide, this isn’t a unique MN problem. And education outcomes are not equal in all states, partly because different state require different level of proficiency and training.

      But yes, the ongoing and constant attack on MN teachers unions may well have produce push-back in the form of stricter requirements. The primary mechanism of union busting has been a push for lower standards and “alternative” routes that will get more non-union teachers into the classroom. Almost all of the “reforms” or programs that neoliberals and Republicans have proposed over the last three decades contained some a union-busting nugget of some kind, from licensing to class size. This has been nothing but a toxic contribution to the educational system.

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/04/2019 - 12:15 pm.

        It is a ridiculous requirement that a MN teacher have a degree from a MN university. We don’t reject doctors with degrees from Duke or lawyers from Harvard Law but you can’t teach in Minnesota with an education degree from either of those schools.

  6. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 09/12/2019 - 08:17 am.

    Maybe they need to start having teachers follow the same procedures as the trade unions?

    You still belong to a union and get all your benefits and retirement.

    You get signed on to a school, if you are good, they will try their best to keep you. Construction firms keep as many of the good workers. I they have to send them to the bench, the good ones find positions with other firms without heading to the bench. If you are not doing good, you get sent to the bench.

    That way, schools don’t lose the good teachers, and the good teachers stay employed.

Leave a Reply