Rural Education

Schools in poor, rural districts are the hardest hit by nation’s growing teacher shortage

Vacancies often filled by unqualified substitute teachers

Last school year, when Cierra was a junior in high school, her math teacher quit and a substitute teacher with no math training filled in.

That’s not unusual in McDowell County, West Virginia, where Cierra lives. The school district has such a hard time recruiting math teachers that Cierra had a string of substitutes in ninth and 10th grade, too.

“I don’t know any math,” she said. “You can hand me, like, a freshman-year math and I’m like, ‘Um, no, I don’t know, I’m sorry.'”

McDowell County used to have a lot more teachers — and a lot more people — when coal mining employed 65 percent of the working population. Now, people are leaving, businesses are closing and the McDowell County Schools can’t find or keep the teachers they need.

Between 2013 and 2016, the schools hired 137 teachers. In that same period, they lost 163. The school system only employs about 275 teachers.

When a teaching position is vacant, it’s filled by a substitute, typically someone who’s not certified to teach in that subject area. A social studies teacher could be teaching math, for example. Close to one in five teaching positions were filled by substitute or uncertified teachers in the 2016-17 school year, a high percentage for any school district.

“We are putting many teachers in our classrooms that are quality people, but they’re not certified in that particular content area,” said Nelson Spencer, superintendent of McDowell County Schools. “We’re not doing our students justice when we don’t have qualified teachers.”

Read the full story by APM Reports here.

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