It's long been known that fewer people are becoming teachers. Now, it's getting difficult to keep the ones we have.
More than a quarter of teachers leave the profession after just three years, according to the Minnesota Department of Education's 2017 Teacher Supply and Demand Report released last week.
That "alarming figure" has districts all over the state worried, said Josh Collins, communications director with MDE.
"It tells us we have a complex problem here: It's not just that we're having trouble attracting people to the profession, we're also having trouble keeping them," Collins said.
"It's being felt all around Minnesota, previously it used to be something that was really only impacting greater Minnesota, but it's absolutely an issue all around the state now," he continued.
Earlier this month, nearly all of Southeast Minnesota's superintendents gathered in a room with many of the region's lawmakers to ask for help in retaining teachers.
Rural districts have long had trouble recruiting teachers, and all districts are having trouble finding teachers in specialized subjects and with special licensure, such as special education and math and science courses.
"We hear from superintendents all the time that when they post for a position they previously may have had 50 or 60 people respond to an open position. Now, perhaps, they only have half a dozen," Collins said.
In 2016, the Legislature offered more than 1,000 scholarships for teachers in shortage areas that they could put toward loan repayment, but the relief couldn't match the high volume of applicants. By August, nearly 3,000 teachers from more than 350 school districts had applied for the scholarships.
"This is systemic of a statewide issue," said Hayfield Superintendent Belinda Selfors during an event a week ago. "Please don't allow our children, our teachers and public education to be a casualty of politics. We are at a critical juncture, and we are in need of support from all legislators, regardless of party affiliation."
Why the shortage?
College graduates saddled with high amounts of debt are entering a competitive job market, education leaders said, and with teaching, they're looking at a profession with a low starting salary.
"In rural Minnesota, we are losing our most talented young teachers to larger school districts because we can't afford to pay more in salary and benefits," Selfors said.
Retention is also hampered by low support for teachers in school buildings, and the state's certification standards can pose a barrier to recruitment from other states.
It's become a perfect storm, of sorts, they said. And recruitment is also hampered by the negative way teaching is talked about, MDE's Collins said.
Hayfield's Selfors said there's a "pervasive cultural and public perception that has devalued" the way people see teachers.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, called the situation "disheartening," knowing teachers aren't respected.
In the next five years, the state thinks it will have the most trouble hiring special education teachers, teachers with multiple licenses, math teachers and chemistry teachers, according to the report.
That is especially concerning for Southeast Minnesota, with the presence of large employers such as Mayo Clinic and IBM that often have more resources to lure away employees.
Retention has been a major concern statewide, though it hasn't impacted Rochester public schools quite as much.
Last year, 94 teachers at Rochester schools either retired, or left the district for some reason. Muñoz said it hasn't been extreme in Rochester, but the district does struggle to find teachers in areas such as special education.
Teachers of color
Many districts are becoming more diverse, but hiring staff members that resemble the students is a slow process.
In Rochester this year, just 2.9 percent of teachers are teachers of color, according to district data — far from resembling the 37 percent of the student population that identifies as non-white.
There's a little more diversity when it comes to Rochester's paraprofessionals, with 10.5 percent identifying as people of color, according to 2017 data provided by the district.
Teachers of color make up 4.2 percent of the workforce statewide, according to this year's findings. The number is growing slowly. Of the newly licensed teachers in 2015-16, 7.7 percent were teachers of color.
In 2014, Rochester public schools started a "grow your own" program, encouraging paras to continue on to get their teaching licenses. Muñoz said there are now two cohorts of students heading through the program, with the first expected to graduate this spring.
By: Taylor Nachtigal