Despite many sounding the alarm on a pandemic-related teacher exodus, the number of new Illinois public school teachers and principals is actually increasing, according to a new watchdog report.
But that’s not the case across all teaching positions.
Advance Illinois breaks down in its latest report, “The State of Our Educator Pipeline 2023,” how school districts across the state are struggling to fill special education and bilingual teaching positions. The organization said that’s having a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino students.
“Most tragically, students of color and students from low-income households are dramatically more likely to be in districts with high vacancy levels, more than twice the vacancy rates than the rest of state,” said Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois.
Arkeshia Washington is a special education teacher at Bolingbrook High School, and she said it’s traditionally been challenging for districts to hire special education teachers, as well as staff members of color. She believes creating community is key to helping decrease the high turnover rate.
“One of the main things that we build on at our district is community, community and community,” Washington said. “So when a teacher is within a school, in order to build that retention, we wanna make sure that we are building it with mentorship, … building conversation with the teachers and the students, that we are not just looking at every scholar as just a student that’s in front of us, but also looking at them as our neighbor, also looking at them as the 15-year-old that just got their work permanent at the Meijers up the street. … It also allows us to be connected with them as well, so that the turnover rate is less likely to happen.”
Although Illinois is diversifying the number of candidates coming into the profession, Advance Illinois’ report also showed that in the 2021-2022 school year, only 2.5% of Black students were enrolled in schools where the representation of Black teachers matched or exceeded the representation of Black students.
Tyler Hunt, a fifth grade teacher at Georgetown Elementary School in Aurora and a senior policy fellow at Teach Plus Illinois, said that diversity is particularly important when you think about building up the next generation of teachers.
“I think about students not being able to see themselves as teachers,” Hunt said. “You have to see someone doing this action or profession in order for you to see yourself doing it. When recruiting teachers, we have to create positive experiences in a school environment with students of color. If we create that positive environment, then that’ll make them think about it. Like, ‘Hey, you know what, I can see myself as a teacher. I had a positive experience when I was in school and so I can come back and be a teacher.’”