Arkansas Delta Experiencing Teacher Shortage

February 16, 2007--Posted at 6:15 p.m. CST

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, AR--It's a growing problem across the delta, a shortage of highly qualified teachers.

Friday in West Memphis, a number of schools including Wynne, Forrest City, Marion, Blytheville and Osceola were represented at Mid South Community College trying to recruit perspective teachers.

The different schools we talked to said they would consider the day a success if they were able to attract just one teacher to their district.

The Osceola School District says they currently have at least 10 openings they are hoping to fill.

"We are here today competing for the same body of teachers that are available and across the state we aren't graduating the same number of teachers that we have in years past," said Sally Bennett of the Osceola School District.

The Arkansas Department of Education is encouraging school districts to become more active in recruiting teachers from their area.

"Teachers are the backbone to whatever a student wants to do with their life," said fourth grade teacher Diane Woods.

Woods is in her first year at Turrell Elementary. Her path to teaching was a long one.

"I started having children so I felt I have to take care of my children, so I had to quit college, and for 12 years I went from job to job to job," said Woods.

Finally Woods went back and finished her degree and came to the school where she grew up attending. Her decision to come back was influenced by the superintendent at Turrell telling her that she had a job waiting for her when she graduated.

"When I look at each one of these children, I see myself, I see me being here and where I come from and I am giving back to the community," said Woods.

Part of the problem in some of the smaller districts like Turrell is teachers will take their first job straight out of college. Then in a few years they will take another job closer to home. However, when you have teachers who are homegrown, you have residents who already have an investment in that community.

"These children respect you a lot more when you know their parents and they know you can talk to their parents at a drop of a dime," said Woods.

According to Woods, while most districts can't afford to pay teachers more, they can find ways to make it worth their while to move home.

"They set up scholarships to attract these kids back," said Woods.

In addition to living across the street from the school, Woods says she selected Turrell because they offered to pay off her student debt.