More virtual teachers could be coming to Shelby County Schools

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More virtual teachers could soon be beaming into Shelby County Schools (SCS).

The district is considering expanding the number of virtual teachers to deal with an ongoing teacher shortage.

The teacher shortage is a nationwide problem.

SCS started the school year with 217 teacher vacancies. Some 367 teachers resigned from May to September, according to data shared with school board members at a meeting in September.

Dr. Yolanda Martin is the chief of human resources for SCS.

Martin says the teaching shortage has been going on for years with colleges graduating fewer teachers.

“And then when you couple that with the pandemic and just the overall international labor crisis we’re in the midst of, it just exacerbated this situation,” said Martin.

Martin says the district has pursued a number of strategies to recruit more teachers, including offering incentives from $5,000 to $7,500 for some teaching positions.

And to keep the teachers they have, Martin says the district is providing more mentor support among other resources.

“We really, really work hard to think outside of the box,” said Martin.

The district also contracted with a Texas-based company called Proximity Learning. It provides certified virtual teachers who are beamed into classrooms on computers.

The district approved an $867,000 contract with Proximity Learning in August to hire 15 virtual teachers.

Now, the district is considering tripling the size of that contract to hire 63 additional virtual teachers.

“We’ve experienced great success. It’s been received very well, especially having individuals who are highly qualified,” said Martin.

But Keith Williams, the president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, says virtual teachers are not the answer. He says money should be spent increasing teacher salaries.

“We are having problems competing and that has not been the case in Memphis before,” said Williams. “We have teachers resigning on a daily basis. We have a lot of people retiring in December. I don’t see any good coming from this.”

Martin says the fact remains there is a shortage of teachers nationwide, especially those qualified to teach certain courses at the high school level, like Algebra II.

Martin says in addition to the virtual teacher, there is a live person in the classroom with students to help monitor them.

In some cases, there will be both a virtual teacher and a live teacher working with different groups of students in the same classroom.

According to information on its website, Proximity Learning is used by over 100 districts across the United States.

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