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Memphis district has about 100 teacher positions to fill — as vacancy rates hold steady

Student watching her teacher on a laptop.
Shelby County Schools teacher vacancy numbers have remained roughly steady since about 2016.
Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Shelby County Schools is looking to fill about 100 teacher vacancies — about the same number as in previous years. That’s despite some early predictions that the fear of contracting COVID-19 would would result in teachers retiring or leaving the profession.

Shelby County Schools, the largest district in Tennessee, is starting all classes online Aug. 31 in an effort to avoid further spreading the coronavirus in a region that the White House has flagged as a “red zone” for its high infection rates. Teachers have the option of leading class from home or from their classrooms.

The Memphis district had about 100 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the last school year. That prompted district leaders to contract with an organization that places teachers who offer online instruction. Local vacancy numbers have been roughly stable since 2016, though this year the district eliminated some unfilled teacher positions from its budget.

To find candidates for the open jobs, Shelby County Schools is hosting a virtual hiring fair from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday.

Teacher vacancies have for years been a challenge for districts across the nation, but the coronavirus pandemic does not seem to be making it worse — at least in Memphis. An EdWeek survey from June found that educators said they were increasingly likely to leave the profession after the pandemic hit. Even so, 54% of those surveyed said that nothing related to the coronavirus would cause them to leave their job.

A little over two weeks before the school year starts, there are no teacher vacancies at Mitchell High School, said Principal Kelvin Meeks. He hired one new teacher and the rest are returning from the previous year, he said.

Most teachers at Mitchell High opted to teach from the school building, Meeks said. Two will log on daily from home because they have small children. He expects some may change their mind and work from home, but Meeks is confident that staff will adequately communicate with each other whether or not they are in the building.

“Before this pandemic, I would have said I would rather for administrative staff to go around and observe teachers in the classroom,” instead of sitting in remotely, he said. “But I’m pretty much a technology guy anyway.”

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