North Dakota schools have had growing problems filling teaching positions in specialty areas, in particular in math and science, for the past decade. Look at the numbers of prospective teachers now in college in those subject areas and we know the problem will continue. It’s compounded by wage issues and a high demand for workers in the energy industry. And a critical shortage of affordable housing in the state’s oil producing counties puts additional pressures on schools hiring for the fall.
North Dakota schools now are short teachers in 18 subject areas, according to Wayne Sanstead, superintendent of public instruction.
There should be no surprises in any of this. The trends in teacher shortages in particular subject areas are well documented. Low salary performance in education in North Dakota, despite significant efforts by the Legislature, continues to confound the state. And the oil boom, a big shock for everyone last year, is a surprise no longer.
While hiring teachers is a challenge, most North Dakota education officials are elbow-deep in solving it. Laws for certification have been changed, and the state has made it easier for teachers from other states to work in North Dakota. Schools in Western communities have gotten special attention, both in funds for school construction and developing housing for prospective teachers. School boards are buying down rent for new teachers. In Watford City, the school district is working with a local developer to make available eight to 10 temporary housing units for new hires.
None of this is new. North Dakota communities, from before statehood, have had to be innovative in finding teacher housing. There are plenty of stories about young female teachers at one-room country schools boarding with families. We’re actually quite good at solving this kind of problem.
The state Land Board has made available grants to school districts in the oil patch, and a good share of that will go to providing housing for teachers.
A result of this difficulty in hiring will be increased pay for teachers. Simply, it will take more money to attract quality teachers. In the long run, that’s a good thing for teachers and a state that ranks among the lowest for teacher pay.
For too long, North Dakota has exported its young teachers.
Make housing available at an affordable price and pay a decent wage. Then filling classroom teaching positions with the best and brightest will be a whole lot easier for school administrators and boards.