Tony Sanders is the CEO of Unit 46 in Elgin — the state's second-largest school district, with almost 40,000 students. Right now, he's short at least 30 teachers. He's using retired teachers as long-term substitutes. Even though those retirees can teach only 120 days out of the 178-day school year, Sanders knows he’s got it better than superintendents in districts that don’t have a deep bench of subs.
"Yeah, if it weren't for retirees, we would really be in a jam,” Sanders says. “Luckily, a lot of retirees like to come back and still be in a classroom."
Illinois has been struggling with a shortage of school teachers. So last month, the Illinois State Board of Education voted overwhelmingly in favor of a plan that — if approved by the legislature — would remove certain testing requirements for teaching licenses, and open pathways for more creative means of certifying teachers.
Push-back was swift. Within weeks, the board received a letter signed by presidents of every public university in the state, plus dozens of community colleges and scores of independent colleges, raising concerns about that plan.
The letter warned that non-traditional teacher-preparation programs would yield “under-prepared individuals who are left to learn on the job,” often assigned to “high poverty, high minority communities serving our most vulnerable students which serves to exacerbate existing inequities….” According to the letter, such unprepared teachers would then leave the profession: “Illinois schools will only experience more churn and difficulty in filling educator positions through these approaches.”
The authors of the letter suggested that the best way to solve the teacher shortage would be to raise teacher salaries.
In Elgin, Sanders wants to make sure teachers come through accredited colleges, but he’s keeping an open mind about teacher licensure standards.
"I think of a high school anatomy class. Could I hire a licensed physician to come in and teach an anatomy class? Currently under the law I cannot,” he says, “unless that person goes back and receives their teaching endorsement.”