By Meg Dickens
Johnson County is a small area with four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Despite its stature, the local school system has been struggling to find teachers for its ranks. According to recent reports, this problem has grown over time and was exacerbated by losing many employees to retirement.
“We’ve taken a beating the last month and a half,” Johnson County Schools Secondary Supervisor Dr. Stephen Long explained. “We took a beating this August with the nutrition folks departing. I recommended two teachers for hire to Dr. Simcox just yesterday, and we have one posted at Doe right now, so it’s a challenge. Sometimes it’s money. A lot of times, its geography.”
Officials are hoping to alleviate the issue through a couple of long-term steps, one of which involves providing more opportunities in the education field here at home. School officials seem to think that having more “home-grown teachers” will make it easier.
“There is a state-approved curriculum in the CTE department,” Dr. Long explained. “We’re looking at adding that class. We have wonderful teachers across the state line that drive in from Carter County. That drive in from different places. Thank goodness to them. But in practical terms, we really need to get back to growing some more of our own teachers.”
As Long explained, surrounding areas like Carter County may pay around the same wages but, teachers may defer to a different system to save on the extra gas money, considering they likely have to drive through that area already. Training more teachers in the county could remove that obstacle.
As recently as August 2021, officials have hired a teacher and lost them to a different school district after training by a last-minute offer. Chairman Howard Carlton pointed out that something similar happens in most job fields. The Town of Mountain City has had the same issue in recent years. Headhunters would reportedly scope out workers after training and offer them higher paying positions, leaving near-constant vacancies in areas likes the water department.
“It’s starting to affect you more,” Dr. Long pointed out. “ I’ve noticed your [hiring] pool has gotten smaller, and, whereas we used to maybe struggle to find a math or Spanish teacher the last couple of years, this year, in particular, it’s been a struggle to find any teacher.”