Teacher shortage haunting schools on verge of new academic year

Classroom. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

With only a little over a month until the start of the next schoolyear, job portals and teachers' newspaper Õpetajate Leht have over 100 wanted ads from general education schools. The Estonian Principals Association sees no end in sight for teacher shortage.

Executive secretary for the association Martin Kaasik said that the number of schools looking for teachers has grown.

"One reason is that teachers go where salaries are higher. The other is the fact that teachers' numbers are dwindling. While the number of students with teacher training has actually grown, they do not choose to work as teachers."

Kaasik said there are new reasons for teachers leaving.

"New tendencies have surfaced this year. Teachers simply up and quit. They were exhausted by spring -- the uncertainty of remote learning and concerning the future. Teachers were more tired than usually that prompted many to consider leaving," Kaasik said.

Heads of schools are looking to the government for solutions. "The only way out of this situation is to hike the salaries of teachers. Teacher shortage will continue to get worse as long as salaries remain uncompetitive," Kaasik suggested.

Liina Põld, deputy secretary general for general education and youth policy, said that the solution needs to be found in cooperation with school operators.

"It is definitely a problem. It is difficult to find teachers, while the solutions will need to be found by local decisionmakers -- temporary fixed-term contracts or other motivation," Põld said adding that the ministry is funding the creation of new teacher study places, [university] funding. "However, local problems need to be solved by operators of schools," she said.

Students training to be teachers to the rescue

Karmi Rumm, head of studies for the Saue High School, said that the school extended its competition to find a small class (for students with special educational needs - ed.) teacher and won't know the results before mid-August.

"It is even more difficult with small classes, and we will have to see whether we can open them this year if we can't find the teacher. Something needs to be done for the children, Rumm said.

Two students studying to be teachers will also be helping out at the Saue school.

"They do not have their master's degree yet. They're university students with bachelor's degrees, but it works for us. We will sign them up for a year. But every teacher is worth their weight in gold. Losing a teacher constitutes a major tragedy for any school these days," Rumm remarked.

Children from another school participating via video link

Aet Kruusimäe, principal of the Võsu School, said that they have been lucky to find enough new teachers.

"When posting the ads, we feared we might fail to fill all positions by fall. It was unexpected to see enough applications to have a choice. Most of our teachers drive, and growing fuel prices cause people to really plan their trips. Even so, we managed to fill all of our vacant positions," Kruusimäe said.

The principal added that the school does not rely solely on wanted ads to find teachers.

"We have found candidates through personal contacts, which we will try to do again. No class will have to go untaught. There is always a solution," she said.

Kruusimäe did not rule out video lessons where classes from several schools could tune in at the same time, which she has discussed with a colleague from the same municipality.

"I know they are also looking for teachers," Kruusimäe said, adding that while a video lesson is not the same as having the teacher in the classroom, it can buy schools time for finding new employees.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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