GAHANNA, Ohio — School districts in central Ohio are preparing for another year as a teacher shortage continues to leave vacancies.
Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner said the shortage started to show about 10 years ago and has only become more pronounced during the pandemic.
“I think this is one of the times it’s worse than it’s ever been,” Gardner said.
10TV reached out to schools in central Ohio to find out how many open teacher positions each district has. Among the few that responded, Columbus City Schools reported 222 open teacher positions. Hilliard City Schools reported no openings at the end of May. Olentangy Local Schools said it is not dealing with a teacher shortage.
The amount of teaching position openings can change as some retire and contracts for teachers are typically renewed in July.
Gardner said there could be several reasons districts are dealing with a shortage.
“We’ll get different answers from educators as to respect levels, pay levels or curriculum issues or a variety of things… I believe it’s one of the most important occupations in terms of building the future.”
Robyn Hilderbrand teaches the Teaching Professions program at the Eastland Fairfield Career Center satellite branch in Gahanna.
“The last two years has been really hard for teachers. The pandemic really made our jobs change completely, we are people that love people, that’s what I saw about teachers. We love being with kids and we love being with people and teaching to a screen was really challenging for the last couple of years,” Hilderbrand said.
“I think there’s a lot of people leaving the profession looking at other options when they lost those connections with kids.”
Hilderbrand also mentioned retirements and pay rates in some states being lower as other reasons there may not be as many teachers as there once was. She’s hoping to change that through her Teaching Professions program, helping high schoolers realize what it means to go into the teaching profession.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to come back to Gahanna as a Special Education teacher,” said Gahanna-Lincoln senior Mary Kate Gebhart.
Gebhart is one of several students who has spent the last two years in the Teaching Professions program. She found out about the program years ago and said teaching was always a career goal for her.
“So my cousin has special needs and from a very young age… I’ve always been open to helping people,” Gebhart said.
She is now headed to Capitol University to major in Education in hopes of returning to the district as a Special Education teacher. Her steps in getting into teaching are similar to middle school teacher Haylee Perry.
Perry also went through the Teaching Professions program, majored in education at Capitol University and has now returned for her first-year teaching in the Gahanna-Lincoln School District.
“So I decided I wanted to be a teacher in like second grade. I used to love playing school with my siblings and neighbors,” Perry said.
She second-guessed her decision in high school, leading her to join the Teaching Professions program. “I immediately realized that yes, I wanted to be a teacher. I remember specifically the first placement that I was in, it was a fourth-grade reading classroom. I loved that experience; I love talking about books with the kids and being with kids that age.”
Perry and Gebhart both took instruction in the program from Hilderbrand.
“I have juniors and seniors that have thought about doing something with kids and having a career in education, they just don’t know what that is yet,” Hilderbrand said. She explained how the program works.
“We look at elementary, middle and high school classrooms. They have a chance to go out and observe and work in classrooms and they also have a chance to explore different career opportunities like speech pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy and being a school guidance counselor,” Hilderbrand said.
Students are able to join the program to gain that experience while continuing with their normal school classes, graduating with their degree, some college credit and experience.
“I would say probably 75% of my students go on into a four-year college program,” Hilderbrand said.
The students who find out a career in education is not for them have the option to leave the program or continue and find another avenue which fits them best.
“Why go to college and spend all this money and not know whether or not you want to be a teacher.”
Perry said through her program there were students who left and some who found a path which includes education in their career.
“It’s been worth it, I know there’s been a teacher shortage, but I love my job and I know we can find some people who would also live this job,” Perry said of her experience.
Outside of career-technical opportunities, leaders at the Ohio Department of Higher Education are also working with various institutions to improve incentives so more people consider teaching as a career.
Nearly 30 colleges and universities were awarded grants to help recruit students into the teaching profession.