Why are Idaho’s teachers leaving the classroom?


Photo Credit: Kloee Perry

Mrs. Buckley instructing her Creative Writing class in the fall of 2022

Kloee Perry, Editor-In-Chief

Teacher shortages in schools are nothing new to the United States or Idaho. In the past 50 years alone, schools have been victims of insufficient teachers entering the field or too many teachers leaving, causing a deficit of qualified educators. Throughout these past two decades, though, largely to do with these past two years following COVID, Idaho’s schools have seen a progression of teachers leaving their profession. 

This summer, Idaho’s schools had around 900 openings that schools needed to fill before the 2022-2023 school year. Those open positions decreased to roughly 700 before the start of the school year and reached a standstill at about 100 open positions statewide nearly three months into the school year. 

So, why are Idaho’s schools in a teacher shortage? Although multiple reasons have prompted teachers to leave the classroom, including an economic downturn in the 80s, early retirement, COVID, social and political unrest, and money, we cannot point to one specific issue that has caused many teachers to leave. Although Idaho is in a teacher shortage, it is important to stress, as Dr. Linda-Clark, the Vice President of Idaho’s Board of Education, states, “[this is] a nationwide problem, not just an Idaho problem.” 

Another problem, though, arises when schools seek to hire teachers. Who is filling those positions? In many cases, those open teaching positions are not filled with certified teachers. Schools must hire paraprofessionals (non-certified individuals employed by the school district to support educational programs) with some training, substitutes, student teachers, and teachers with non-traditional teaching certificates to fill those gaps. 

As schools fill their open positions with uncertified teachers, schools have to ask how they can support those individuals as they are simultaneously getting their education or certification while teaching. 

An apprenticeship program in Idaho is just getting started by the combined efforts of the Idaho Workforce Development Council, Idaho Department of Labor, and Idaho Career and Technical Education this year. The Youth Apprenticeship Program takes people, like paraprofessionals, who have some education (perhaps a two-year degree) and puts them in the classroom, teaching while they finish college. These students get on-the-job training, much like in career technical programs. The Youth Apprenticeship Program will continue to develop this year to place 400 apprentices by 2024 in some of the 1,200 federal apprenticeships.

Concerning money, Idaho is working to increase teacher salaries. The Idaho Legislature funded the Career Ladder, which significantly raised wages. This raise in salaries, although an improvement, is still not competitive with surrounding states. 

The average public school teacher’s salary in Idaho ranges from $43,000 to $63,000. In Oregon teachers’ salaries fall between $46,000 to $67,000, in Wyoming $41,000 to $60,000, in Washington $49,000 to $72,000, and in Montana $41,000 to $61,000. When the Idaho Legislature comes into session, they will determine how to spend higher education and public school money. This money will be ongoing from sales tax. 

Districts throughout the state are offering bonuses and implementing programs like Grow Your Own, which take their paraprofessionals and bring them into the classroom when they finish their degrees. The Grow Your Own program is comparable to the Youth Apprenticeship Program in bringing individuals with some experience into the classroom; although the Grow Your Own Program comes from the state, the participants of the Grow Your Own Program are usually certified at a local level (CSI or another institution). As well as the Youth Apprenticeship Program is a state program operated by the district. 

This year, teacher shortages have struck Idaho the hardest. Shortages are causing districts to increase their class sizes and eliminate electives like music and P.E. to put those people in more needed classrooms. Idaho wants to ensure high-quality teachers who give high-quality instruction are in the classroom, so this shortage is not quickly resolved by just getting warm bodies in the classroom. Idaho is tracking student achievement to ensure students are adequately served due to the lack of qualified teachers in their classrooms. 

As Twin Falls School Districts Superintendent Brady Dickinson states, “we are using different programs to identify where the gaps are…teachers are doing targeted interventions for those areas.” Although the Twin Falls School District is confident that they can meet students’ needs, there are areas where the district is short, which creates stress on staff. Shortages concerning special-ed teachers are hard to fill because special-ed students need certain accommodations, modifications, and adaptations in the classroom that require specialized teachers. 

Mr. Franklin demonstrating a lab to his Chemistry class in the fall of 2022
(Photo Credit: Kloee Perry)

Classified positions include special-ed, school lunch positions, and paras (paraprofessionals). There are 87 open classified positions in the Twin Falls School District this month, mainly due to money. School districts are not competitive with other jobs, such as jobs like McDonald’s. Dr. Linda-Clark states that “teacher pay continues to be an issue.”

As stated by Superintendent Brady Dickinson, “[the] biggest issue that we have is just not enough people going into education in college.” The teacher shortage in Idaho “won’t get back to normal until we start seeing more students that leave high school go into the field of education.” stated Dickinson. People must acknowledge, though, that there are social and political issues that are discouraging for teachers. Dr. Linda-Clark says, “Public education and public school teachers are under attack.” This attack on education can differ students from entering the teaching field or drive teachers out of their profession. 

The state and school districts cannot point to one specific issue that has caused a large number of teachers to leave, but one main underlying issue driving teachers away is burnout.

 Kiersten Williams, a teacher that recently left the teaching field in the Twin Falls District, says that problems had been growing over time. Still, burnout was a leading factor in her going, Kiersten Williams says. “[it was] very draining to be in that [teaching] profession because it is so much more than just teaching your content area. You now have many other hats to wear, and it is just quite draining.” As teacher shortages increase, more and more is expected of teachers. From unmanageable class sizes and teachers being in constant conflict to meet students’ needs, it is a juggling act. Kiersten Williams states, “I did not see myself handling everything.” 

Leaving the teaching profession does not come without consequences, in any case. Many teachers that leave still have a passion for teaching but cannot manage the new parameters inflicted upon them. Kiersten William says, “I am not happy because I left; I miss teaching every day” Many teachers wish to stay but cannot due to unmanageable workloads and uncomfortable circumstances. 

These last two years have presented unprecedented challenges to teachers. Still, a teacher at Canyon Ridge High School, Brenda Reichenbach, says, “I’ve always felt very supported; I’ve always felt very lucky to be a part of this [Twin Falls School District] community.” 

Idaho’s Board of Education is taking a proactive approach to combating school teacher shortages. Still, the state needs to sort through the real issues concerning teacher shortages and find strategies to get teachers into the classroom. Some systems include having unique partnerships between school districts and hiring institutions and an all-hands-on-deck partnership with Idaho’s Legislature. 

Idaho cannot have an uninvolved approach with this next generation of students’ education because these students are our state’s and society’s future. It will take the state, districts, and all community support to combat this shortage crisis to help our schools regarding kids’ education and needs.