Retired Memphis teacher returns to classroom to help fill teacher shortage

Published: Aug. 7, 2022 at 9:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After calling it a career in October 2020, 62-year-old Letha Reed returns to the classroom.

It’s part of a new law that went into effect in Tennessee on July 1 that allows school districts to re-hire retirees in hopes of filling the ranks in schools.

“I was working as a leasing consultant, probably my third or fourth job since I’ve been retired because I just can’t stand sitting at home,” Reed said, laughing. “I got this call, and it was a former coworker from Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering. He said, ‘Ms. Reed, I have this opportunity for you.’”

After attending a hiring fair for Green Dot Public Schools, which is a network of charter schools in Tennessee, California, and Texas, Reed accepted a position as a 10th Grade English teacher at Bluff City High School.

The principal told Reed her 23 years of experience was invaluable.

“(The principal) said, ‘Ms. Reed, I need you. I need your wisdom in the building,’” Reed recalled.

Reed will help fill the nationwide shortage of teachers.

A 2022 survey performed by the National Education Association showed there are 567,000 fewer teachers in U.S. public schools than there were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s more, is 55% of teachers indicated in that survey that they’re more likely to leave their job sooner than they originally anticipated.

It’s concerning to retirees, now back in the class, like Reed.

“I’m still in good health. I got a few good years left in me, so take the initiative, and let’s give these young educators a hand,” Reed said, sending a message to other retirees who may be on the fence about returning to the classroom.

The new law would also allow these retirees to continue to receive retirement checks at 70% value while working while still taking in a salary from the school district.

It’s a pretty enticing offer, but Reed says it’s more than about the money for her.

With passion still with her, she’s excited - albeit nervous - to accept the call and return to the classroom.

“They pay well, but I’ve had other people offer me dollars and money,” Reed said. “You have to want to do it. This is a ministry.”

As far as Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS), as of mid-late July, there were 220 teacher vacancies.

MSCS’s Talent Management Director Brian Ingram told us the district would be relying, in part, on those seasoned retirees coming back into the class to help bridge those vacancy gaps.

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