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With a new school year in view, many districts struggle to find enough teachers

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A masked elementary school teacher stands and speaks to her second-grade class.

Some school districts are offering hiring bonuses to fill a shortage of educators. Others are simply making do with fewer teachers. John Cherry/Getty Images

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It may seem like the peak of summer, but the countdown to school is on. In lots of districts, students are due back in August, which means the scramble for teachers is on too.

Some schools still have lots of open positions, with the competition particularly fierce for those who teach special education, science and math. That means school leaders have had to get creative with the incentives they offer — and they’ve had to make compromises.

Alex Moseman, a talent director for Indianapolis Public Schools, sees targeted ads all the time for private companies trying to recruit teachers to work in tech or sales. 

“I’m naturally a very competitive person, so I get juiced up,” Moseman said. “It’s just a very visible sense of what we’re competing against.”

What they’re competing against are options for remote work, fewer responsibilities and sometimes higher salaries.

The district currently has about 100 open teaching positions, many of them in science and math or special education roles. So Indianapolis is offering hiring and retention bonuses to teachers. Moseman’s also brainstorming about how to offer flexible work in the future. 

“Remote work is here if you are [a] knowledge-based worker, and we believe our teachers are,” said Moseman. “The labor market is shifting. We need to get ahead of that.”

Moseman is clear with applicants that teaching is hard, and the district provides mentors and mental health services to help them stick with it.

Elsewhere, districts are providing help with housing — either money to help pay for it, or they’re becoming landlords.

“So, [in] some places it’s a stipend. ‘Here, we’re giving you an extra $1,500 or whatever a month,'” said Gretchen Weber with the education nonprofit WestEd. “In other places: ‘Here’s the housing option we provide. ‘Here’s the tiny home. You can live here for $100 a month or rent free.'”

But some districts are just making do with fewer teachers.

Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of the Stanfield Elementary School District in Pinal County, Arizona, had two elementary school teachers give notice in the past two weeks, so she’s putting one experienced teacher in charge of two classes. 

“They’re going to supervise a paraprofessional in a room that’s next door with a connecting door,” she said.

This puts extra stress on those experienced teachers, Sadorf said. So her district is providing them with extra money and time off as compensation. 

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