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Face the Facts: Addressing the Teacher Shortage in Conn.

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The state is facing a shortage of qualified teachers as we head into the new school year.

President of the Connecticut Education Association Kate Dias joins Mike Hydeck to give an update on how districts are working to resolve the problem.

Mike Hydeck: Hartford is offering $5,000 bonuses and other incentives as well. And if that doesn't work, what will at this point? Joining me now is Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias to talk about some insight on the staffing shortage and what needs to be done to alleviate this. Miss Dias, welcome back to Face the Facts.

Kate Dias: Hi, thank you very much for having me about this important issue.

Mike Hydeck: So we know we're still sort of on the heels of the pandemic with new variants coming out, but how much is this shortage pandemic-related, in your estimation?

Kate Dias: So I mean, I think it's part of it, but it's certainly not the sole factor. And I think as we move forward, we're finding that teachers are weighing not only sort of the pandemic impact, but the social impact to the, Where does, how does society treat teachers? What's the financial situation in most districts with respect to teacher compensation? And they're really trying to weigh what their lifestyle is as a teacher against other options.

Mike Hydeck: So you and I have talked in years past, the shortage is not new, it's just been exacerbated. Early on in the pandemic, one of the things the governor talked about was working on fast-tracking college students who are already training to become educators, get them in the classroom sooner. Did that help any?

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Kate Dias: So we didn't see that as a significant push in terms of getting more people in the classroom today. What we saw, because ultimately, we need prepared educators, we are really not in the business of rushing a student in before they're actually prepared. That makes a certainly not a good investment for a long term employee. So what we did find is that that became attractive in terms of recruiting, and getting teachers in as support. So a lot of those younger, sort of college students in their junior and senior year, didn't necessarily come in as certified staff but came in and filled some of those substitute shortages, supported the educators that were certified in the classroom. So I think that's a long term thing, that getting those individuals up and running quicker. And I think that's a very powerful thing to do. But I don't know that that fixes our problem today.

Mike Hydeck: Another small idea was incentivizing retired teachers to come back, at least in the short term. Did you see that?

Kate Dias: So I think that also, it was dependent upon the circumstances. So I think it worked in some places and not in others. I'm interested to see if that extends into this school year, largely because some of the pandemic-related concerns still held our retirees back list last year. Now that we are kind of down the road further with additional vaccines and boosters, we have a different, you know, very different virus that we're dealing with. It's not quite as aggressive as it was, you know, year and a half ago. I'm wondering if that will make retirees more interested in returning.

Mike Hydeck: So let's talk about the future a little bit. The generous retirement packages to state workers started changing in recent years to try to deal with our budget concerns. Do you think, first, did that lead more veteran teachers to leave the classroom? And how do we entice any of them to come back?

Kate Dias: Well, in the end, we, you know, Connecticut has an interesting system. The state employees have one pension system, and the teachers have a separate one. And so we don't necessarily see the same, the same lucrative benefits in the retirement packages. For example, we don't have the health insurance or those kinds of things, in the same ways. So I think getting a teacher out of retirement, really has a lot more to do with making sure there's no penalties, making sure that there's flexibility. You know, we had a lot of conversations about, how can retirees maintain some of the flexibility that they enjoy in retirement, maybe through job sharing, and really being creative thinkers about how we can use our retirees in a way that benefits them as well as the school districts. So I think it's going to take more than just saying, 'we'd love to have you back and we won't penalize your pension in doing so.' It's going to take also that what kind of flexibility can we support you with? Can we job share? Can we put you in as a mentor teacher with a newer teacher? How is the best way to use them as a true resource in our communities.

Mike Hydeck: That's gonna take creativity moving forward, definitely. Kate Dias, President of the Connecticut Association of Teachers, thank you so much for joining us on Face the Facts once again.

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