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WVU education experts say different school districts need different solutions for keeping, recruiting teachers

A teacher in a gray top with a thick necklace reads a book to three young students while leaning against a brown wall.

A West Virginia University student teacher reads to students. Educator staffing is a challenge in many schools as a new school year begins, an issue three University experts are available to address. (WVU Photo)

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With a new school year underway, three West Virginia University education experts are available to discuss the ongoing challenges of staffing schools, which the president of the National Education Association labeled a “five-alarm crisis.”  

Donna Peduto, executive director of West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, has held positions with the West Virginia Board of Education and the state Department of Education, and was the state coordinator for West Virginia's first Innovation Zones Initiative.  

Matthew Campbell, associate professor of mathematics education in the College of Applied Human Sciences, and Erin McHenry-Sorber, CAHS associate professor and coordinator of higher education administration programs, have been researching the issue of teacher staffing, with a focus on West Virginia’s rural school districts, for the past five years.   


“As a former West Virginia teacher who served in the classroom for 23 years, I think back on what incentivized me to stay beyond love for students. Leadership opportunities to mentor newer colleagues, coupled with a supportive principal who champions quality teaching, encouraged my long-standing tenure.  

“National data shows that the more schools invest in teacher leadership opportunities, the higher their retention rates. That data drove 2020 legislation (WV HB 4804) allowing West Virginia counties to use state funding to incorporate teacher leadership initiatives into strategic plans.   

“West Virginia is also addressing supply and demand through local, targeted recruitment. In partnership with 14 institutions of higher education, 31 counties have signed up for a Grow Your Own West Virginia Pathway to Teaching program, which incentivizes high school juniors and seniors to teach in-state. Students can fill open teaching positions while earning salaries and benefits.” – Donna Peduto, Executive Director, West Virginia Public Education Collaborative  

“It’s important not to label this problem a ‘teacher shortage.’ We’re not short on teachers, we’re short on teachers willing to work in the profession.  

“Not long ago, it was reasonable to see the decline in new teachers as a bigger problem than teachers quitting or retiring. But now mid-career teachers are leaving at higher rates than ever and attrition has become the more acute issue. Efforts must be made to retain existing teachers, instead of only looking to incentivize and streamline entry into the profession.   

“Just one instance of someone who is underprepared or inadequately supported teaching a class is a problem. All too often, schools disproportionately affected by staffing issues have high percentages of students of color or students living in poverty — the students most in need of a quality education.  

“During the 2021-22 school year, 250,899 students were enrolled in West Virginia public schools. There are individual school districts in the country with more students than all the students in West Virginia, so it should be easy to understand that teacher staffing problems in places such as Los Angeles or Chicago are different than what we face here. Yet, too often, the solutions discussed in West Virginia often come from large, urban contexts, with questionable results.” –  Matthew Campbell, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, College of Applied Human Sciences 

“About half of West Virginia’s schools are in rural districts, but not all rural is the same. A rural district that shares a border with another state might struggle to retain teachers who can earn more across the border. Other rural schools might be in tourism destinations and find success recruiting their graduates. Because of this diversity, statewide policies aren’t as effective as targeted solutions. Some rural schools can capitalize on Grow Your Own initiatives; others need different pathways.   

“Principals and superintendents are desperate to do the best they can for students, but the solutions most often available to them tend to provide a short-term fix to a long-term, complex problem. Recently, one principal, unable to fill a first-grade position, had to rely on seven substitutes in the first two months of school. None were certified to teach elementary students. He said this scenario set students behind and he worried the effects would be long-term.   

“As the shortage intensifies, there is an increased workload placed on the teachers who remain, whether that is covering vacant classrooms, teaching larger class sizes, providing support for alternatively certified teachers, or other new burdens placed on their already challenging workload, which can make it more difficult to retain current teachers.” –  Erin McHenry-Sorber, Associate Professor, Coordinator of Higher Education Administration Programs, College of Applied Human Sciences 

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics.  Search for an expert by name, title, areas of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday



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