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Summer school staffing shortage

Districts struggle to convince teachers to give up a break after a hard year


A teacher greets students in front of Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J. Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig (file)

Summer school staffing shortage

After teaching online all year, Virginia elementary school teacher Carmen Crowder joked she wants to write on her students’ grade sheets, “We survived. They survived. I survived.” She’s encouraging some of her students to attend summer school to cement their hard-won academic gains from this year, but she doesn’t plan to teach during break. She has worked for a summer learning program twice before and planned to do so again. But a scheduling conflict made her rethink the decision, and now she plans to spend the summer visiting a grandchild and working her second job at a winery—though she tells her third graders she works on a farm.

Many schools are banking on extra summer school hours to help students struggling academically after more than a year of COVID-19 disruptions. But extra classroom hours require more staff, and not all teachers are eager to give up summer plans after an exhausting year. That’s driven some districts to cut enrollment while others boost pay.

Summer school has become a popular option for fighting learning loss. A chaotic year of online classes and changing safety restrictions left more students failing classes and missing school. Districts set aside federal relief money to expand summer programs, offering students extra math and reading practice along with fun activities like dance and theater.

In many districts, teacher supply hasn’t kept up with summer school demand. In Arlington, Va., about double the usual number of students were eligible for the extra class time this year, WUSA-TV reported. District administrators said they needed an additional 200 teachers beyond the current 175. Faced with a shortage, the district prioritized enrollment for high-need students like English language learners and those with disabilities.

Teachers’ reasons for opting out vary. Some like Crowder already had vacation or job plans and value a change of pace or extra income. Others are high-risk for COVID-19 and not yet ready to return in-person. Many are burnt out from an unusually stressful school year: In an April Edweek survey, 66 percent of educators reported having lower morale than before the pandemic.

Some districts are partnering with Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs to relieve some staffing pressure. Others hope to lure teachers with extra pay. Aiken County, S.C., will pay teachers $42 an hour this summer. Muhlenberg Township, Pa., bumped its summer pay from $30 to $70 an hour. Nationwide, public school teachers make on average about $64,000 a year, or about $30 an hour.

In Virginia, Eunice Nogueras agreed to lead summer school even before her district boosted the pay. She’s been planning projects and field trips, including a visit to a local stadium to teach middle school students about construction workers’ jobs and the venue’s economic impact. Nogueras said she doesn’t love teaching summer school and hesitated at first. But she took the job after deciding she had the time and skill to help students: “If you really are called to be a teacher, then that means you’re called to be a servant, and that means you’re called to give what the Lord has equipped you to give.”

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