Where has the summer gone??? Believe it or not, it is time again to send the kids back to school to their amazing, brilliant, creative, patient beyond all understanding teachers.
BTW has been reporting for a while now on the teacher attrition issue in Stafford and what it means for families and students. Experienced teachers with more than 9 years of experience did not receive a pay increase last year, creating some serious ill-will with some teachers. Many long-time and beloved teachers made an exit last year for greener pastures and while we wish them nothing but happiness and success we have to wonder, who is replacing them? Stafford middle and high school students will be getting school schedules this week, if they haven't already done so, and families are starting to notice the changes. One parent wrote, "My son is starting CFHS this year. My older son graduated from there in 2016. When we got his schedule, we have all new teachers except one. " This may be a common sentiment for parents and students this week as they realize that younger siblings may not be able to benefit from the classroom experience of some fantastic teachers that older siblings received.
Although teacher attrition rates for Stafford are down from 14% to 11% last year, according to SCPS, that is still a very large number of bodies leaving the system. David Kerr, at InsideNOVA.com, just released an article discussing why he believes even the 11% number is still far too high. 271 teachers left in the 2016-17 year and over 200 left last year (and that number does NOT count teachers who have left since June 30th (and there have been quite a few.) All together, that's 500 people leaving a work force of around 2000 in 2 years, a large number indeed. Considering that there is a national teacher shortage, that leaves SCPS in the difficult position of trying to fill these empty slots with qualified teachers. It must feel a bit like a Sisyphean task at this point for SCPS.
This is the kind of Sisyphean task I can get on board with.
A quick glance at the employment listing on SPCS today shows that there are still over 30 teaching positions open right now. The pool of qualified candidates gets smaller and smaller every year, leading SCPS to travel to other states to attempt to recruit new teachers to fill empty positions. If none can be found, sometimes programs are eliminated like the DE English program at Forge that has been suspended this year due to the inability to find a teacher for the program. For programs you can't eliminate, SCPS can simply increase the number of students in other classrooms. For example, one teacher sent pictures to BTW of her cramped classroom that will now have to house 31 students instead of the state standard of 24 for her classroom due to the loss of teachers in her department who were not replaced. That's a 29% increase to one classroom.
When the school system has maxed out classroom sizes and still needs teachers, they can hire provisionally licensed teachers and long-term subs to fill the teaching positions. To be perfectly clear, just because a teacher is provisionally licensed does NOT mean that he or she is not good at their job or is a bad teacher. Provisionally licensed teachers could have come to teaching through a career change and are in the process of becoming licensed. They could be very passionate about educating but just haven't yet finished meeting the licensure requirements. Long term subs can also be great at what they do and they may also be working on becoming licensed. My point here is that even if your child's teacher is not licensed, this is not cause for panic.
However, as a parent, I personally like to know the qualification and experience level of my children's teachers. Let me share a little story from my own personal experience to elucidate why. When my oldest daughter started 3rd grade years ago, her teacher was right out of college. (FYI, she is no longer at SCPS or in the state of Virginia anymore.) When I showed up to the Open House, I asked her a lot of questions about the curriculum and her plans for the year. She had zero answers for me and I became a bit concerned. After consulting with the school's administration, I went against my better judgement and allowed her to stay in the class and for a while, my daughter seemed to do just fine. Then practice SOL's came around and my daughter flunked the math SOL, I mean big time bombed it. She would have scored better if she had left it to chance and guessed on every question. I was shocked! My daughter is very bright and never had problems in school prior to this. I never heard anything from the teacher about my daughter having problems during the year, never saw a bad grade or got any indication that there was a problem. I'm sure you can imagine my frustration. In order to course correct my daughter, I had to find her a math tutor and pay for those services for two years to get her comfortable with math before middle school. Suffice it to say, she is not a math major in college but is doing very well as a double History/Russian major.
Likely my daughter would have had issues with math regardless of the experience level of her 3rd grade teacher. However, a more experienced teacher would have seen the signs that there was a problem and would have contacted me before it got out of hand. This is why an experienced teacher is worth her weight in gold.
If you see some unfamiliar names on your child's schedule and would like to know more about that teacher's experience level without grilling them at the Open House, there is an easy option. The Virginia Department of Education has a link on it's website where you can enter a teacher's name to see if the teacher is licensed. You can also see the highest level of education that teacher has received.
As you can see from the example above, this teacher holds a Master's degree and holds a Postgraduate Professional License through 2022. The image below shows what you will see if the teacher has a Provisional License.
If you put in a teacher's name and nothing comes up at all, then that teacher is not licensed. Best to double check that the name is spelled correctly before calling your child's school but that teacher may be a long-term sub.
SCPS has been fortunate to be able to get a lot of great teachers in the school system, I have been equally fortunate to know many of them. The likelihood that your child has a sub-par teacher is pretty low. But they are definitely out there, they are in every school system. By starting the dialogue with your children's teachers early, armed with a little information about their background, you can hopefully avoid the kinds of problems that I had with my oldest. And remember, if we want to keep from losing even MORE teachers next year, parents need to communicate with the School Board and Board of Supervisors that an increase in teacher salaries is imperative to maintaining the high standards of education that Stafford citizens have become accustomed to.