Teen Spotlight: Considering short-term solutions for teacher turnover | #teacher | #children | #kids

Beau Toepfer.
Courtesy photo

Aspen School District is not the only district in the country facing teacher shortages as schools across the nation are struggling to find available staff to fill gaps in teacher positions.

Still, the district has faced challenges with teacher retention and replacement this year, and some educators have expressed concerns about the impact of that turnover and staffing shortages throughout this year. The challenge lies in part in hiring replacement teachers and finding substitutes.

As of the morning of May 24, the middle school had a total of 14 open positions, the high school had 13 open positions and the elementary school had two open positions including classified, certified and athletic coaching positions. Across the district there were 49 unique listings for different positions; numbers are subject to change as the district fills positions.

According to Aspen High School principal Sarah Strassburger, a possible solution to the problem, at least in the short term, could be reallocation and hiring one teacher for multiple positions.

At the end of the 2022 school year, Aspen High School lost two world language teachers. One Spanish teacher, Joseph Dziedzic, got his dream job with a baseball team in Arizona, and a French teacher, Eric Lamb, said he is moving to Roaring Fork High School to help his community and teach in the same district as his son, who is just starting kindergarten.

Lamb was partially involved in hiring his own replacement and reorganizing teachers to fill his position. One option that Lamb suggested was that instead of hiring a replacement for Lamb, Aspen High School could shift other world language teachers to fill that position and reallocate some of their duties to another new Spanish teacher so everyone gets a little more work, but no one teacher has to fill in. Both positions could then be filled by only one teacher.

“Jane (Larsen), for example, who teaches French and also teaches our English language learners support classes and instruction classes,” could be a fit for that concept, Lamb said. “So we’re looking to hire a Spanish teacher who can do both Spanish and teach English, which would mean that Jane could do more French and less of the teaching English, so there won’t be another full-time French teacher hired.”

With the entire job market for professional educators struggling, being able to fill more positions with fewer people can be a solution in the short term. Lamb also heads the Advanced Learning Plan Program at the high school. The program helps gifted students further their education and make sure they are sufficiently challenged. Lamb has been helping students in that program create learning plans that made sure they would be getting the best educational experience they could. Another teacher also leads the program at the middle school, but they seemed to be already quite busy with their other classes, according to Lamb.

“The woman who is doing it at the middle school, she seemed overloaded and I thought, well, why don’t they just make it (a) full-time position and spread it over the high school and middle school and we’ll have some continuity?” Lamb said.

The high school actually lost fewer teachers this year than in years prior, according to Strassburger, but the district has a harder time hiring than many other districts because of several factors. There is a smaller applicant pool and housing is a larger problem because of the sheer cost of living in this valley, among other things.

The district has put out marketing videos and even put an ad in Outside Magazine with the aim of attracting teachers to live in Aspen as well as work at Aspen High School. Housing is likely a significant limiting factor for teachers as rent in the Roaring Fork Valley is too high for a teacher salary. However, the Aspen School District owns a lot of property and continues to acquire more as part of a $114 million bond initiative.

“The idea is to offer people housing with a subsidized rent so it is below the free market. The free market is out of control for teacher salaries,” Strassburger said. “We have some homes in Snowmass, we have some in Woody Creek, we have some in old Snowmass and Basalt, so there’s kind of a variety and there are a variety of sizes. And we’re hopeful that that will help bring people here.”

The need for more substitute teachers is another beast to tackle.

Currently a main focus for the district is to ensure that the schools keep functioning. Having one teacher checking in between multiple classes or having regular teachers substitute if they don’t have a class during that period is a short-term solution to the problem. Students still need a teacher in class, and having regular teachers sub is one of the only solutions right now. What really needs to be done is make pay better for substitute teachers and increase benefits to encourage more people to join the field of education.

Beau Toepfer is a sophomore at Aspen High School and news editor for the Skier Scribbler student newspaper. This is his first year with the paper.

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