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Addressing Teacher Shortage in West Virginia

Addressing Teacher Shortage in West Virginia

Like many states around the country, West Virginia has faced a significant teacher shortage in recent years. School and district administrators in the largely rural state have found themselves scrambling to fill open positions with qualified candidates and have been forced to find out-of-the-box solutions to overcome this issue. Meanwhile, working teachers have been left frustrated by stagnant wages and rising medical costs, as clearly demonstrated by their statewide strike earlier this year. And, these issues come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers face quality-of-life issues outside of the classroom while they manage demands of larger class sizes, larger workloads, and classes outside of their area of expertise. Students are at risk of missing out on the type of top-quality instruction they need and deserve in order to thrive academically.

Here, we’ll take a close look at what lies at the root of teacher shortage in West Virginia and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing West Virginia’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in West Virginia is a complicated issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Stagnant wages

West Virginia is one of only 17 states that utilizes a teacher salary schedule to dictate minimum pay for teachers. While the goal of this program is to ensure equity in pay, it also makes teacher pay a state-level legislative issue, especially as West Virginia does not recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees. West Virginia teachers staged a nine-day strike in February of this year to protest low pay and high healthcare costs. And, comparisons aren’t favorable when salaries in neighboring states are considered. West Virginia teachers make an average of only $45,701, while Ohio and Maryland teachers take home an average of $57,000 and $66,961, respectively.

Large rural population

Nationwide, rural areas face the greatest teacher-staffing challenges, as it is difficult for small communities to offer salaries and lifestyle benefits (including access to housing, entertainment options, and walkability) that are competitive with more urban areas. West Virginia has a significant rural population, with 51.3% of state residents living in rural areas, as compared to the national average of only 19.3%.

Alternative-licensure concerns

Largely as a response to ongoing teacher shortages, West Virginia has approved expanded alternative paths to teaching certification. These programs allow individuals who already hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree outside of education to become certified to teach in West Virginia public schools. However, as is true in other states, concerns have been raised about how well these programs prepare the individuals who complete them for the challenges of the classroom and diverse student populations. This can have significant impacts on teacher retention and, in turn, ongoing shortages.

What West Virginia Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as the ongoing teacher shortage in West Virginia inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick-fix for this problem. However, there are steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for West Virginia administrators to consider:

Talk to your legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but over time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes in regard to funding and teacher licensure.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding workplaces. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by public school administrators, and for many, they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide nearly 300 West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards–aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our West Virginia partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!