How Can Selkirk Deal with Teacher Shortage?
My understanding of boxes and rules probably started in math class when I was young. Do you remember? We were given a formula, taught to memorize it, and then told to plug numbers in like a little machine in order to generate a solution. I hesitate to lay the blame of “box thinking” on math because, well, I like math, and because math instruction is not like that any longer, so I feel I am doing it a disservice by perpetuating the stereotype. However, for the purpose of this article, I think most adults can agree that in their formative years, math instruction probably fostered box thinking. We were just looking for one right answer, correct? No creativity allowed!
(DISCLAIMER: I do want to stress here that creativity is now rewarded in math instruction....as young as kindergarten, and that engineering and physics, both heavily laden math fields also rely on creativity, so at the end of this article, we should probably rethink math’s bad reputation!)
Back to box thinking though. I am sure that math is where most of us got our start in quickly solving simple problems by applying memorized rules. However, what we learn later as we grow up is that life does not always present us with neat and tidy little problems that we can apply simple rules to solve.
Oh, sure, you can use rules to figure out how much force you are going to need to get out of that snowy ditch, (I think it will take at least 2 guys to push...and maybe chains on the front) or how to match your desired expenditures to your income, (hmm...might need to put off that new computer purchase until I have saved enough!), but many problems in life take creativity and ingenuity. You need to respect the rules that apply, but somehow you need to twist and turn your thinking in order to develop a solution.
For example getting a 2-year-old who has walked past his uncle’s Einstein poster hundreds of times without incident, but who is now suddenly afraid, to understand that the picture is not some scary monster who will jump off the wall to attack him, takes more than just knowledge of physics and child development. You need to understand this child’s particular personality. Look at it from his perspective; twist and turn your thinking until you find a way to address his needs.
Selkirk has one of those Einstein poster problems right now. We have all walked past job postings over the years…no problem. Generally, when a teacher retires, we advertise and find a new one. One is sometimes difficult, but not impossible to find. However, now…when I walk past the job postings, I am just a little scared. Currently, we are in the middle of a five-year transition period in which 75% of our teachers will retire, most after teaching at Selkirk for over 20 years. It began two years ago and the number of new faces that join us increases each year. (See page 3). Currently, we have one open teaching position not filled from last year (special education) and three more for next fall (science, math, and music) and on top of it all, there is a statewide teacher shortage.
Teacher salaries, paid from a statewide schedule, have not kept up with other careers so fewer students go into education, meaning fewer graduate to become teachers. Districts in urban areas (Spokane) and most of those on the west side of the state increase levies significantly to offer additional pay as well as to fund days outside of class time for teachers to collaborate and gain new skills. Why come to Selkirk for vanilla when they can get triple chocolate ice cream with whip cream! Other rural districts are close enough to larger cities that they become “commuting” districts. We are too isolated to be a commuting district, nor do I think we want to lose the benefits of having teachers as part of our community. We also do not want to raise taxes to compete for those new teachers, so applying the rules we have lived by before, do not work now.
So, faced with a dilemma of replacing the majority of our teaching staff in a time of shortage, we looked for solutions outside of the box. One possible idea that we are considering is the concept of a 4-day school week. The student day would extend by 40 minutes, but students would have Fridays off. In this plan teachers would teach students for 150 days and would have 18 days to work together, learn new skills, and develop curriculum, without requiring extra levy funds. In addition, this provides a day for families to take care of appointments, shop for shoes, or just be a family, etc.
Research shows that both staff and student attendance increases on a four-day school week, which means fewer substitutes and fewer make-up needs for students. The bulk of the research from other states and data from the two Washington schools indicates that students adjust easily to the slightly longer day and that academics do not suffer, and in some cases, grow stronger.
There are many details that would need to be worked out in a 4-day school week plan and I hope that you will join us on Thursday, February 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the Cutter Theatre auditorium for a presentation followed by a question and answer session on this idea. We are working to smooth out some of the bugs in the plan, but I am sure your input might help identify more areas to be addressed.
Our goal is to attract a high quality applicant pool to fill the teaching vacancies during our transition time, while at the same time increasing quality of education program for students. The staff, both teachers and classified employees, support this idea so if we can get parent support, then this may be Selkirk’s best plan for an edge in hiring quality candidates while the State grapples with the long-term issue of the teacher shortage.