Data from the state Department of Education shows 67 percent of Tennessee schools started the school year with vacancies, with an average of 20 openings per district.
The report shows this school year started with more than 1,000 teacher vacancies state-wide, and about 3,000 positions filled by people with an emergency teaching credential. The vacancies are up 16 percent since last school year.
It’s not a surprise for Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher Hallie Trauger.
She says teachers are leaving due to low pay, and a lack of respect for their time, including a seemingly endless stream of meetings and paperwork outside of teaching hours.
“It starts to feel personally unsustainable or also just not the creative, respected profession that we all want it to go into,” Trauger said.
Trauger says the shortage creates a snowball effect, as the teachers who remain often end up with heavier workloads and larger class sizes.
“Every time a teacher leaves, that creates a more challenging environment for the teachers who are left behind,” she said.
A spokesperson with the Department of Education says the state has programs to make it easier to recruit new teachers, like the Grow Your Own program, and the teacher apprenticeship program.
But JC Bowman with the Professional Educators of Tennessee says education leaders also need to focus on keeping teachers from leaving.
“They're very excited about being in the classroom. The problem is we don't give them the support often that they need,” Bowman said.
Bowman suggests districts invest more time in meeting new teachers’ needs and says districts can better support teachers struggling with student behavior issues.
The TDOE says teacher pay raises by Governor Bill Lee will help incentivize teachers to stay.
This is also a nation-wide issue.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics says 45 percent of schools opened this fall without a full teaching staff.