DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — Nationwide, about 600,000 teachers left the profession between January 2020 and February 2022 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of Friday, there were still more than 5,000 unfilled school positions in Iowa, according to Teach Iowa job postings. Over 1,000 of these are full-time teaching positions. KCCI spoke to one teacher who left the profession and one who stayed to get their perspective on the teacher shortage in Iowa.
Nick Covington and Aaron Tecklenburg have a lot in common. Both teach history. Both live in metro Des Moines. But as Tecklenburg returns to school, Covington will not return to class, for the first time in more than a decade. Covington said that decision began with parental criticism of the content he has been teaching for years.
“I was trying to teach my AP European History kids about the problems of modern nationalism,” Covington said. “It kind of launched me into a series of meetings with my administration, over complaints from parents about the way I was teaching white nationalism in the context of history class. This was the start of a very long conversation that ended a year later with my resignation.
Covington said he was also targeted online.
“My photo from my school’s staff page has been shared on social media groups and personal accounts,” Covington said. “The comments read, you know, ‘fire this guy’ and swearing and all that sort of stuff too. And it’s really hard not to take these things personally.
He said it resulted in many sleepless nights, unpaid days off for his own mental health and an impact on his students.
“You really start to say, ‘Well, can I teach on these subjects? Can I – if a student talks about it – feel comfortable talking about it in class? and I had certainly reached a point where, again, I was always on the lookout for the next shoe to drop and wondering if the next thing I was going to teach was going to be the thing that would make me attend another meeting again. Tecklenburg said he’s also seen a shift in teachers’ perceptions and faced additional challenges in teaching current affairs. But he said it was his support system that kept him in the classroom.
“For me personally, I continued to love the classroom [and] love the job. [I’m] very grateful for the leadership I had and still have at our school,” Tecklenburg said. “I guess I just felt grateful to be able to rely on great colleagues, great leaders. Again, the job hasn’t gotten any easier, but I’m still enjoying it as much, if not more, than ever. Although he is still returning to the classroom, Tecklenburg said he has seen more teachers quit than ever before.
“In my career, for the first time in 22 years, it was right in front of you. Like we don’t have enough subs today, you know, or we don’t have enough cover today It was tangible, and it was everyday,” he said.
Covington attributes the shortage to systemic issues that have worsened over time.
“We have been struggling to address this teacher shortage for almost 20 years,” he said. “Thanks to some kind of bipartisan politics on both sides that looked at test scores as the measure of educational success, that really, you know, devalued teachers and their unions, and made it much harder for them to work in the classroom. ” Tecklenburg and Covington say addressing these systemic issues is crucial to recruiting and keeping more Iowa teachers.
“Give teachers back professional autonomy, treat them like professionals,” Covington said. “Let them do the things that they are trained to do and that we hire them to do, which is to make decisions about what is best for the students in front of them and in a given decision. And then, of course, pay them appropriately, okay, give them the tools to succeed, but make sure they’re compensated for it.
Tecklenburg said it was time to look for real solutions.
“We’re going to face the same challenges that many professions face and it takes the people on the inside who have done it to give you that first-hand experience and really look for solutions,” Tecklenburg said.
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