Hundreds of teaching positions in Baltimore City and County will likely go unfilled by the time students fill classrooms for the beginning of the school year on Aug. 29.
Just as Baltimore-area school systems have added hundreds of new teaching positions this year — funded with a flood of new state and federal dollars — they have found that a state and national teaching shortage has stymied efforts to fill the new jobs. Together, the city and county need about 1,200 new teachers to fill all the open positions.
“It is frustrating that we have the resources to provide the programming our children should have had for years” but a teacher shortage is limiting the pace of expansion, said Alison Perkins-Cohen, chief of staff for the Baltimore City Public Schools.
The city’s school system set out to hire 1,300 teachers this spring, more than twice the number of a typical year. About 600-700 of those jobs are new positions. Perkins-Cohen said the city started hiring very early in the spring for the existing job vacancies, and was ahead of its usual hiring pace. It had recruited 500 new teachers as of July 4, she said, but still needs more than 700 teachers. The city and county systems had about 5,000 and 7,700 teachers, respectively, in 2021-22.
“The supply of teachers across Maryland and the country is critically low,” she said, adding that school leaders haven’t “been able to find nearly enough people to fill the jobs, as the state’s supply of prospective teachers has been declining for years.”
From 2010-2018, the number of teachers graduating from Maryland colleges and universities has declined by 41%, according to Perkins-Cohen. In addition, programs that have traditionally provided a pipeline of new teachers — the Teach for America program, which provides teachers for the city and county, and Urban Teachers in the city — are seeing a decline in applicants.
Perkins-Cohen said it isn’t possible to hire the number of teachers needed by the start of school, so administrators are working with principals to prioritize hiring to ensure essential classroom positions are filled. The city has been trying to expand its arts, music and second language classes in schools throughout the district, but students may not see those positions filled right away.
Baltimore County has 550 teacher vacancies, an increase from the 311 teacher vacancies during the 2018-2019 school year, the last normal year of hiring before the pandemic. Not included in the vacancies are the 42 new positions added to the fiscal 2023 budget. The school system is focusing on areas with the greatest needs, such as English for speakers of other languages, also known as ESOL. They created new teaching positions for those departments. However, the Maryland State Department of Education identified nearly every content area and grade level as a critical shortage area for the county.
“Educator shortage is a national problem,” said Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. “So all the local school systems are competing against each other.” In addition to teachers, schools need bus drivers and attendants, cafeteria workers, building service workers, office professionals, para-educators and school safety assistants.
School officials are attempting to close the gaps, according to Homer McCall, the county’s director of staffing. Four hundred teachers have been hired since March. And a slew of open houses have been held recently. Candidates showed up to school buildings with resumes and got on-the-spot interviews.
Woodlawn High School had its open house July 14 in its library. Pieces of paper were taped to clusters of desks to label the content area for which candidates were applying. For instance, “Language Arts and ESOL” was printed on one piece of paper and “Food and Nutrition” on another. Staff from those departments were sitting at desks waiting for applicants to arrive.
“I’m just very hopeful that we’ll be able to hire some candidates,” Principal Jamel Jernigan said at the start.
She later said they had made about a dozen job offers that day. Her hope was to be down to 10 vacancies. The school has 1,750 students and is one of the largest schools in the county.
McCall attended Woodlawn’s open house. He said key vacancies around the county include business education, culinary arts, math, science and counseling.
“We’re trying to get every position filled before students return in August,” he said.
Multiple recruitment sessions are happening each month. McCall said nine schools participating in the school-specific open house had the highest number of vacancies: Woodlawn Middle and High schools, Parkville High School, Deer Park Middle Magnet School, Franklin Middle School, Lansdowne Middle and High schools, and Dundalk Middle and High schools.
There will also be evening non-school-specific open houses at Loch Raven High School every Thursday through Aug. 18.
Urban Teachers, a national organization that trains teachers over three years, has supplied about 90 to 100 teachers to city schools each of the last three years, according to Peter Shulman, the chief executive officer. Teachers supplied by Urban Teachers have a retention rate 20 percentage points higher than the city average, but the organization has only 30 new teachers signed up for their first year of teaching in August. Because those teachers spend a year in a classroom helping and learning from a master teacher, they won’t be taking on a classroom of their own for another year.
A variety of factors is leading to the decline in applicants, which Shulman says Urban Teachers is also seeing in Washington, D.C. and Dallas.
“I think it is a confluence of reasons which make this an extremely challenging environment,” he said. “First is the labor market. There are 11 million open jobs in this country.” The teaching field has had difficulty attracting candidates when there’s an ample supply of other jobs that are available.
In addition, inflation combined with the cost of taking on debt to get a masters of education degree has candidates worried about whether they can make it. “We hear from prospective teachers, can I afford to be a teacher in Baltimore city?” he said. And with the pandemic still a factor, teachers are being asked to be frontline workers, Shulman said.
The number of resignations and retirements in Baltimore County is about 11 percent higher than it was prior to the pandemic, according to McCall. Last year, 757 teachers resigned and 186 teachers retired. The system also hired 279 long-term substitutes that year.
School officials say the pandemic has affected vacancies. Some teachers, even those with a lot of experience, did not feel comfortable returning because of the difficulty in dealing with students after they were remote the past couple school years, according to McCall.
Another factor, he said, is that some prospects misunderstand the job.
“Some people think teaching is easy. Teaching is a hard job,” he said, adding that it requires being counselors and mentors to students.
Sexton said teachers have been leaving for different reasons. Some are going to different counties, others are staying home with their children and some are changing careers due to the demanding workload.
There’s much that can be done to draw new talent into the teaching pool, according to educators.
The city has provided significant cost-of-living pay increases, and Urban Teachers is offering signing bonuses, scholarships for Black educators, and other financial incentives. In addition, it is providing professional financial planning services so that teachers in the program can better leverage all the options available to them.
Perkins-Cohen said Maryland’s state education leaders could take steps to relax teacher certification requirements or offer hiring incentives to expand the supply of teachers across the state. Maryland colleges and universities have never graduated enough teachers each year to fill the number of open jobs, so school systems have often recruited from surrounding states, including Pennsylvania.
Baltimore County “needs to make itself more attractive than the other counties,” Sexton said. One way to do so would be to provide more planning time for teachers and allow educators to work in locations most convenient for them.
“Pay is not the only factor,” Sexton said.
Billy Burke, executive director of the Council of Administrative & Supervisory Employees, offered suggestions for dealing with the staffing shortage at the last school board meeting. One idea, which was inspired by conversations with school leaders, is to have a committee that “reviews the impact of staffing shortages on a weekly basis” and has the power to make decisions and implement changes at each school.
He said he had reason to believe those ideas will be discussed further with school leaders.
A priority for hiring, McCall said, is diversity.
“We are looking to diversify our work staff, particularly at the teacher level,” he said.
He pointed out that while a majority of students are Black, a September 2021 report from the Maryland State Department of Education found 81% of teachers are white and 13% are Black
McCall said the system is very interested in hiring male teachers, especially men of color, who would make good role models. Toward that end, officials have increased their presence at historically black colleges and universities and increased their diversity events.
Barry Brown, a 52-year-old youth pastor of Disciples Path Community Church in Windsor Mill and a former business owner, was among the applicants to turn up at Woodlawn High School. Brown, who is Black, has no school teaching experience but said he can be part of the solution.
“Everybody knows about the teacher shortage,” he said. “I’m a solutions person, not a problems person.”
He said he can offer his services to Black children and help address the disconnect between young people and adults.