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'We Really See A Crisis' Top Maryland Educators Alarmed Over Looming Teacher Shortage Exacerbated By Covid Pandemic

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Cheryl Bost, a veteran educator and the head of Maryland's teachers' union, the Maryland State Education Association, told WJZ every school system in the state is having trouble filling positions, and the pandemic has sent those shortages into overdrive.

"We really see a crisis in teacher shortages and other staffing shortages," Bost told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "We have vacancies in classrooms across the state and in some districts, there are hundreds of vacancies."

She put it bluntly in a plea this week to the state Board of Education and told members the shortage "keeps me up at night."

"We see the shortages for bus drivers, but what we don't always see is the shortage in the classroom," Bost said Tuesday. "I think every district in the state has a shortage of teachers. Class sizes are doubled up, or we are just putting anyone in rooms."

A recent Frontline Education survey looked at more than 1,000 districts nationwide and found a record two in three reported having a teacher shortage, and few were immune from it. In cities, 75% of districts reported a shortage, compared with 65% in rural areas and 60% in the suburbs.

"We still get paid 80 cents to the dollar compared to other professions with the same amount of education, so we have to make it an attractive profession. As I talk to teachers, there's also a lack of respect for our profession," Bost said.

A National Education Association survey showed 32 percent of teachers plan to leave the classroom earlier than expected. You can read more here.

Rachel McCusker, a veteran Carroll County teacher and a member of the state board of education, also sounded the alarm.

"I do not see how we as a profession recruit and retain when we don't look at what we are asking, and we have absolutely no eye to a reasonable home-work-life balance," McCusker said. "We talk about social and emotional care for our students who have been through this horrendous time of the pandemic, and we are not at all doing anything to help make a sustainable balance for the teachers who are trying to manage all these things."

Maryland's multi-billion dollar education bill—the Blueprint for Maryland's Future—could eventually increase starting salaries to $60,000 a year and reduce class sizes.

"We're going to improve salaries, but if we do not do something about making a sustainable workload for teachers, they are not going to come to the profession no matter what we pay them."

Bost told Hellgren, "More and more schools of education have shrunk in our colleges. We are an 'import' state in Maryland, which means we get a lot of our teachers from outside our universities and colleges."

She noted as covid cases spread, some virtual classes in Baltimore County have 50 students.

She also said the pandemic is changing the workload. "We're adjusting to having students in our classrooms—trying to take care of all the health and safety needs, the trauma that has taken place with student evictions. We have increased homelessness. And we have a shortage of counselors and school
psychologists and social workers. All of those jobs are being placed on teachers in our classrooms."

Maryland is also seeing a severe bus driver shortage, a lack of substitutes, and school nurses and administrators are taking on the added duties of contact tracing positive covid cases as outbreaks spread.

Bost told Hellgren she does not believe some school districts' vaccine mandates will lead to more teachers leaving their jobs.

"We encourage everyone to get their vaccination. We know there are some medical and possibly some religious exceptions. We do support our local jurisdictions that are taking on the vaccinate or test criteria—either show proof of vaccination or go through regular testing, and we believe that combined with the masking mandate and other mitigation….we shouldn't have that add to our shortage."

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