Central Ga. schools struggle to fill empty teaching jobs

A Georgia Department of Education report says 44 percent of new teachers leave the field within their first five years.

Houston County High School student Ozellious Roberts loves working with kids.

He spends part of his week working with elementary schoolers who he says look at him "like a big brother."

The eleventh grader assists the younger students in the classroom.

He's in the role thanks to a Houston County schools program that aims to expose high schoolers to teaching as a profession.

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And now, Ozellious says he knows what he wants to do when he grows up.

"I just saw like the teachers and what they go through," said Roberts. "I just want to do the same thing."

But it's becoming a lot less common to see kids like Ozellious walk into a district office and ask for a job.

Houston County Board of Education deputy superintendent Cindy Flesher says she's watched the number of applicants for open positions plummet over the past few years.

Hiring them is only half the battle. A 2015 statewide Georgia Department of Education report says 44 percent of all new teachers will be gone within their first five years.

Flesher admits it's worrying her a little bit, but she says her district keeps their teacher retention rates higher than the statewide figure by providing teacher support programs and higher salaries.

"Our current salary schedule is different from the state salary schedule by about three percent," said Flesher.

Even with higher salaries, she says they're still struggling to attract new teachers.

"200 people we may need to hire before August," said Flesher. "Right now, we may have a total of about 100 applicants."

It's a challenge facing schools around the country.

According to the National Education Association, just 4.2 percent of college freshmen in 2016 planned to major in education -- the lowest that figure's been in 45 years.

The decrease forces school leaders like Flesher to scramble to cover the shortage.

She says they've looked at hiring alternatively certified teachers through Georgia's Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (TAPP) -- an initiative designed to provide a road into the field of teaching for people who didn't major in education.

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According to Flesher, they've also considered using "extended day contracts" for high school teachers, which pay educators extra money for agreeing to teach every period of the day.

They're then expected to do lesson planning outside of school hours.

Flesher says increasing the student to teacher ratio is a "last resort."

For now, she's hoping Saturday's teacher job fair helps bring in more applications.

It will be held at Veterans High School in Kathleen from 9 a.m. to noon.