An informational session to attract new elementary teachers for Curry and Coos counties is set for Oct. 22 at the Brookings campus of Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC), in partnership with Southern Oregon University.
Brookings-Harbor and Central Curry School District officials said the session is an important step to help provide needed teachers to shore up an ongoing shortage.
“Annually, we are challenged to attract and retain teachers to the south coast,” said Central Curry School District Superintendent Tim Wilson. “(Central Curry) felt very fortunate to fill our nine vacancies for this school year before June 1.”
Brookings-Harbor Interim School Superintendent Chris Eberhardt said his district, too, tries to have a pool of qualified teachers, although that can prove challenging.
“We work to have an effective blend of experienced and less-experienced teachers when we are filling the positions, but without that pool, you need to help the teachers that are there with a few layers of support to be put into place.”
Eberhart said teachers face a number of challenges, and for some, those challenges can be overwhelming.
“They can feel devalued by culture, and often they find everything that they do is questioned,” he said. “It’s kind of getting whipped up every day.
“New teachers will work days on a lesson, and it may bomb. That is part of getting through the first couple of years, but it can be overwhelming.”
Wilson said his district is using mentors to help retain teaching staff. “To meet the needs of our new staff, we have formal and informal mentors who work on teaching strategies and learning the culture of the building,” he said.
“In the end, it is the balance of the benefits and disadvantages of living in a small, isolated community.”
Wilson said, the region’s economy and competition for jobs are key factors to the teacher shortage. “The cost of living, complicated by the lack of availability of affordable housing, is the largest contributing factor,” he said.
“We made some strides with salary during our recent negotiations, but it does not compare with urban or larger valley districts.”
Jamie Belzer, the university center program and academic advisor at SWOCC, said rural Oregon often has struggled to hire and retain qualified teachers.
She said it’s a multifaceted issue.
“New teachers that are hired from out of the region often don’t realize how rural Coos and Curry counties are until they move here, and many do not stay long for that reason,” she said.
Belzer said Coos and Curry counties often lack enough medical specialists to serve the region, leading to doctors’ appointments that must be scheduled months in advance.
“If a teacher or loved one needs these services, they are not apt to remain in a region that lacks in this,” she said.
“Rural Oregon also tends to lack in cultural diversity, which can be a culture shock to a professional that comes from more-diversified regions.”
Belzer said access to higher education also is a significant barrier in obtaining skilled teachers.
“For the most part, someone must move from the region in order to get the education necessary to attain a teaching license,” she said. “This isn’t feasible for most, and those that do move for their education often do not come back.”
Belzer said the need for new teachers spans all subjects, but especially needed are K-12, science, math, language and English language learners’ teachers.
She said the scarcity of teachers triggers a variety of impacts, including a strain on the district’s resources and its ability to manage classroom size. “More students in classrooms means larger teaching loads for teachers,” she said. “Larger teaching loads means less individualized instruction.
“It also puts more pressure on teachers to give quality instruction to a larger group of students that have various levels of comprehension and learning styles.”
Eberhart said that while there are a variety of reasons teachers leave the profession, he sees one reason that stands out. “At the end of the day, teachers do not leave because they don’t know their material. They leave because it is a challenge to craft and sell their material to students who might not be willing to buy it. And that is deflating. That is tough.”
Southern Oregon University advisor and coordinator Susan Faller said the State of Oregon requires teachers to complete an accredited teacher preparation program. For those who teach multiple subjects - such as at an elementary school - this requires content knowledge in all of those subject areas.
“Also, to be an effective teacher, there are many skills and professional disciplines required,” she said. “Teachers need to be able to build relationships with their students and communities in order to infuse their learning experiences with relevancy. They also need to understand the importance of managing data collection to determine their impact on student learning.”
Faller said the SWOCC and Southern Oregon University teaching program is created with the non-traditional, or adult student, in mind, offering online, weekend and evening classes to fulfill most of the requirements.
Belter said a partnership involving the State System of Higher Education, Eastern Oregon University and SWOCC led to a teaching licensing program in March 2016 that’s designed to help ease the shortage.
“It was clear to us at Southern Oregon University that there is a significant need to provide a process or pathway for people who are living in rural areas to invest in their own communities - to become the teachers who will make a difference long-term,” she said.
“We decided to design a satellite program that provides for high-quality educators from both (Southern Oregon University) and the local communities. It has been exciting to hire active teachers from area elementary schools to actually teach some of our university courses.”
Belzer said that partnership Is based on a “grow-your-own model,” giving local residents a path to licensure without having to relocate.
The Become an Elementary Teacher Information Session will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 22 in Room 243 of the SWOCC Brookings campus, 96082 Lone Range Pkway. For more information, call 541-888-1518, or 541-552-6919.