Northwest Iowa schools face Spanish teacher shortage
Dec. 02, 2017
LAWTON, Iowa (AP) — Kami Busch left Northwestern College in 2013, armed with a degree in Spanish and a quest to teach in that field in a Siouxland school district.
Busch applied in two schools and quickly was hired at Akron-Westfield. Busch then moved after one year to Lawton-Bronson, where she has now taught Spanish for four years.
"I feel confident that if I was going to move, I could find something," Busch said.
Her confidence grew out of a recognition that Spanish teaching candidates in Iowa are often few and far between.
The Iowa Department of Education and U.S. Department of Education annually compile lists of subjects with teacher shortages, based on the number of licenses issued, the number of projected graduates in each discipline and number and frequency of job postings on a statewide teacher recruitment website.
In the 1990s, there was only one school year when Spanish teachers for grades 7-12 didn't make that list. Since then, when the national category was broadened to all foreign languages, there were only two years — 2013-14 and 2014-15 — when a shortage of foreign language teachers in Iowa was not found.
Education officials point out Spanish isn't the only shortage subject area in Iowa, the Sioux City Journal reported . The list also includes many specialty, non-core, courses such as industrial technology, family and consumer sciences, business, many science subjects and Talented and Gifted.
Larry Bice, Iowa Department of Education administrative consultant for educator preparedness, said shortages of Spanish teachers are most acute in rural districts, where openings often may draw only two or fewer candidates. Bice noted the majority of Spanish teachers in the state are in their 20s.
Just 41 graduates of Iowa universities and colleges in 2016 had teaching degrees with an emphasis in Spanish language, Bice said. Of those, 14 graduates were from the University of Northern Iowa. At other colleges with teaching programs, there were smatterings of one to four graduates.
Bice said state officials often speak with college administrators about targeting shortage areas, to put resources in those subject fields and to speak with college students to consider such options.
In the last four years, the Sioux City Community School District has filled three jobs for Spanish teachers. Combined, 11 candidates applied for the openings, including two in 2014 and just one in 2015.
Rita Vannatta, the district's human resources director, said other elementary teacher openings, by comparison, typically receive 40 or more applicants.
Spanish is taught in the Sioux City district's three high schools, but not in its middle schools. Vannatta said the district has been "fortunate" to not have unfilled Spanish teaching posts.
Vannatta said the district recruits to fill the district's 2,000 teaching and support positions from local colleges and job fairs. In the toughest to fill jobs, a position may not get staffed until the second semester of a year.
"We want the most highly-qualified teacher in the classroom for our students. We can wait until a mid-year hire, perhaps there can be a mid-year (December) graduate," she said.
Vannatta said school administrators across Iowa, such as her brother, a principal at Clay Central-Everly, recognize the scarcity of Spanish teacher candidates, and also other specialty fields outside the core subjects.
"Certain areas are hard to find (candidates). Teaching is a wonderful profession that I encourage people to try," Vannatta said.
Busch said some people considering teaching careers might not consider Spanish since it is not in their sphere of knowledge, since they may have been raised in places with little to any diversity. She said college teaching majors may not realize there is more than instructing the Spanish language. The discipline also includes teaching about cultural pieces of Latino culture.
The Northwestern College graduate said she first picked up on the teaching shortage in her later college years after she saw less than a half-dozen people in teaching methods courses for Spanish.
"When you see only five students, you think there aren't a lot of people going into this area," she said.
Students enrolled in disciplines with too few applicants may be eligible for both state and federal forgivable loans in college, covering up to $20,000 in tuition and other costs. But in spite of the financial incentives, Bice said he doesn't see the longstanding Spanish teacher shortage turning around "in the foreseeable future."
A native of Charter Oak, Iowa, Busch said Spanish is an important subject. She noted many firms now want bilingual employees, whether that is for interacting with patrons in a medical or retail business.
"It makes you so much more employable. It is a needed skill anymore," said Busch, the former Kami Kuhlman.
She teaches Spanish in seven of the eight periods in the Lawton-Bronson High School, and finds the job "super fulfilling."
"It is rewarding to see something that kids weren't comfortable with, start to click and understand," she said.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com