When parents send their students into public education, they expect their teachers not only to be competent, but there will be enough of them.
In recent years there has been a national decline in people going into teaching professions, and Williamsburg is not exempt.
“There’s less and less teachers going into teacher prep programs at colleges and universities,” said Tim Baker, senior director of talent management and organizational development for Williamsburg-James City County schools. “The job’s hard and a lot of folks are coming out with four-year degrees and their peers are making more money than them.”
Baker goes to career fairs regularly to recruit teachers for the WJCC school system and he said sometimes, there are more school systems there than potential teacher candidates.
There are a number of factors that play into a decrease in interest in teaching positions but the one that comes to mind first is salary, Baker said.
“I think no one ever enters education to get rich,” said Leslie Grant, associate dean of academic programs for William & Mary’s School of Education. “You do it because you want to make a difference. But there’s the practical reality, teachers have to make a living wage.”
In previous years, teachers with a master’s degree made approximately $44,500 a year and $43,000 with a bachelor’s degree in WJCC. But the district’s new budget would increase overall pay for teachers by 4 percent.
However, that still doesn’t fully address the issue. Grant said the areas with significant declines in teacher interests are science, technology, engineering and math.
“If you think about it, an individual graduating with a degree in math and science has other opportunities,” Grant said. “If we think about the salary for teachers with a degree in math and science, folks can pursue a different position with significantly higher pay.”
Grant said the School of Education at William & Mary has been lucky not to see a decline in enrollment during the past few years. But she said it hasn’t been without hard work from the department to continue to make the program more attractive.
One of the most recent changes is a program launching in the fall where students can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Education. Before 2017, students couldn’t major in education in undergraduate programs across the state. But former Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive directive in December of that year to address what he called a growing crisis.
“The teacher shortage is a growing crisis that we have to stop and reverse if we are serious about the Commonwealth’s economic future,” McAuliffe said in a statement to the Virginia Department of Education.
But even with that, WJCC schools are still looking at how to make their district more attractive to teachers, Baker said.
“We’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve been fully staffed so on the first day we had all our teacher positions filled,” he said. “But I get worried that there’s less and less folks that will come.”
One of the recruitment efforts the district is doing is by showing potential teachers how current employees are valued in the school system. This is done through grant awards from the community foundation or recognition in general. Baker said when considering how to recruit future teachers, the district has to continuously find ways to make itself attractive and compete with neighboring districts.
“I mean, it’s a hard job. You can’t deny that,” he said. “But it’s an important one and we don’t just want people, we want people who will do it well.”